Monday, December 13, 2010

Progress Report: 12/13/2010

Last post of the year. Next week we're going on vacation, and I make it a point to disconnect as much as humanly possible when I'm on vacation.

This is always the busiest time of year. At work, there's a desperate rush to get a whole lot of things done before things shut down, and of course at home there's Christmas shopping, prepping for vacation, general mental insanity, etc. Which is why I don't carry around a lot of expectations for getting writing done in December.

That being said, the story for the second book is coming together beautifully, and the outline is taking shape. Which is fantastic. Also a little bit intimidating, because the end of the series itself is still hiding in the fog, with only its barest shape visible to me right now. For me, writing is often an act of faith that the story will come when I need it to.

I have gotten emails and seen blog postings from Thunderstruck fans wondering when I'll get back to working on it. The story is never far from my thoughts, but currently the iron is hot for my dragon stories, and that's where I've got to strike. I will return to Sharon & Gail when I can. Rose & Jade are the ones who need my attention now.

It's been an extraordinary year. I have a sense of things coming together now, paths opening up and opportunities getting closer. I hope you all have good holidays, and I'll see you in 2011.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Progress Report: 11/29/2010

Champagne! I have an agent.

I spoke with Ms. Devra Jacobs of Dancing Word Group this weekend, and it looks like she's a go to represent Rose & Jade. She's breaking into the Young Adult market, and she's very enthusiastic about the book and its potential. Not so hot on the title, so we'll be coming up with something else that telegraphs the content a little more clearly. Y'know, something to do with dragons.

I'm very psyched, folks.

Oh, so in terms of contacting an agent who's been holding onto your manuscript, I think it's worth it. The other agent that was in the running was taking quite a while to get back to me, though she eventually did. And she decided not to take the book on, which made my own decision much easier.

The thing is, it seems that agents will gnaw on a book for a long time if they're interested, and will send it out to other people in their inner circle to read and evaluate. This is why it takes so long. My experience is that they don't provide a stream of updates about this, so if the waiting is driving you mad (as it was for me), then you're probably best off dropping your potential agent a polite email to ask for an update. Might take a while to get a response to that, too.

Patience. This business requires patience.

Next up for me: book proposal. And, I'm told, creating a website for your book with an ambiguous "coming soon" is not a bad notion, if you can find a website designer and illustrator to help you out. Fortunately, I have both those skills myself, so there's a head start. Time to get to work!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Progress Report: 11/8/2010

The plot is thickening up on the agent front.

This week's news has a different agent asking to represent my novel. Which is... yay! With complications.

The first thing is, I did agree to inform the first agent if there was any other offer on the book, and to give her the a chance to say whether she's interested or not. So I'm waiting to hear back from the first (potential) agent, and I'm not sure how long that takes. I have horrifying visions of my emails somehow being netted in a spam filter, but I'm going to take it on faith that that's paranoia in action.

The second thing is that the new agent doesn't normally represent Young Adult books, which is somewhat of a concern. The first (potential) agent does. So... yeah. You can see how this is qualified good news. Still, I think it is important to remember that it is very good news indeed!

Champagne still pending.

So on other fronts, yesterday we went and saw Hereafter. First off, Clint Eastwood is a treasure, no amount of appreciation can do him justice. I felt the film spoke profoundly to my own life. It's not because I relate personally to the near-death experience--I haven't had one. Much of the film's focus is not about the experience itself, but how people relate to you when you've start talking about something that they aren't willing to accept. Your life has changed course, and all of a sudden you find yourself out on "the fringe." The people who you once respected and identified with now look at you as "woo-woo" and irrational, if not actually insane.

As someone who works at Sounds True, and as someone who was once, philosophically, a materialist atheist, this story speaks to me very strongly. It is something I want to capture in Sharon's story, since it is the journey that she undergoes when she is blindsided by something miraculous, and it forces her to change her point of view.

In my life, I haven't experienced anything that is obviously miraculous. I'm in the more difficult position of having to decide who to believe when they tell their stories of things that don't fit into the reductionist universe. Oh, to be sure, I've gotten little tastes myself. Yet if I wanted to go back to materialist thinking, I could (unlike Sharon, whose miraculous healing and ongoing immersion into the world of magic give her pretty much no choice but to swallow that she's going to have to change her worldview).

It is a subject that occupies much of my thinking, and I thought Eastwood's handling of the material was superb. If I get the chance, I'll write more about this.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Progress Report: 11/1/2010

One of the things that I hope this blog will be useful for is to help other writers gain helpful insights for their own careers. Right now, we have the issue of Etiquette with Agents. Specifically, how long does it take for an agent to review your manuscript before getting back to you, and should you contact them before they contact you?

For me, it has been almost two months. For me, personally, being in this kind of limbo is a particular sort of agony that wears away at my nerves. I've now frayed to the point that I am going to take the leap of etiquette and buzz my prospective agent to see how things are going. I shall let you know what results this produces, good or bad.

Meanwhile... tap, tap, tap.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Progress Report: 10/11/2010

Tap. Tap. Tap.

No, I'm absolutely not sitting here drumming my fingers and compulsively checking my Inbox and messages to see if there is a message from my prospective agent.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Those dents in my desk were there when I got it. The fact that they fit my fingers is one of those great mysteries of life.

Tap. Tap.

I did have this dream that I got an email from the agent that went as follows. Subject Line: "That was fun." Email Body: "Pass." I thought it was rather cold behavior, but then again dream agents aren't as polite as real ones. Fortunately, I have not had any successful history of predicting the future with my dreams, so I can simply brush that off as a whimsical offering of my subconscious.


Okay, so apart from all that, the big thing this week was my wife Candi's 42nd birthday. Because she's a lifelong horse lover, it was very appropriate that it turned out to be an extremely horsey week. The highlights were:

  • Watched a lot of the World Equestrian Games. These are kind of like an Olympics devoted entirely to horse competitions. To a true horse lover like Candi, pretty much any competition is fascinating. To a lesser horse lover like myself, I find some of the events riveting (like Eventing, jumping competitions, etc.) and some less so (Reining is what I'm thinking of here. This is an event where everyone has to do the exact same routine, which involves a great deal of charging around in circles. It's entertaining the first couple of times, and then it gets somewhat repetitive).
  • Went and saw Secretariat, which I enjoyed immensely. I'm in accord with Roger Ebert's assessment of the film.
  • Went to Cavalia, which was beautiful beyond description. This is the horse/circus show created by one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil. Seeing it simply made me happy to be alive and in the world at this moment, which I think is one of the best things that great art can do. I've never seen anyone train horses quite this way. I've seen horses trained to perform incredible tricks, but in Cavalia, the trainers appear to be working with the horses as partners far more than normal. There are lots of portions of the show where the horses are let loose and trusted to do their own thing in an entertaining way, and as a result they look like they are spontaneously playing with their human co-performers, not enacting scripted tricks.
So those were the highlights of a very equestrian week. Now I'm going to go back to not compulsively checking my Inbox. I haven't looked at it now for about fifteen minutes. See? No worries here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Progress Report: 9/27/2010

Short report this week, and I almost don't want to mention the most interesting development, because it's not anything solid yet. But at the risk of jinxing myself, there is an agent who asked to see the whole manuscript of Rose & Jade after reviewing my submission and the first three chapters. After the steady Chinese water torture of "Thanks, but no thanks" responses, even to this much interest is very encouraging indeed.

I'll let you guys know what she thinks. Fingers crossed...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Progress Report: 9/13/2010

Sometimes, a couple of weeks go by in a blur, and you look up to say, "What happened?"

Ever have that experience? Yeah, me too.

In terms of progress, more queries are out to more agents. No nibbles yet, and the search continues. Don't let anybody tell you this isn't a grueling process.

What's also grueling is the novel intro to Thunderstruck, and I'll tell you why. It's Sharon's situation as she's paralyzed. If you go back to the beginning of the strip, you notice that I don't spend a lot of time on Sharon's wheelchair days. That's mostly an evasion on my part, trying to get on with the lightning bolt and the magic and stuff. It's also a bit of a cheat.

So on this go-round I wanted to give Sharon's wheelchair life a fair shake. That means doing the research on what it's actually like paraplegics in day-to-day life, which is exactly the sort of legwork I was lazily attempting to avoid when I set out on the comic. And I find myself writing about a group of people from an outsider's perspective, and wanting to make sure I don't drop the ball.

Sharon is depressed. Now, the stats suggest that people with paraplegia are more likely to be depressed than the general populace... except it's fiendishly hard to get a read on how depressed the general populace is. And one aspect of a severe spinal injury is that you by necessity end up seeing the doctor more often than the average joe, and therefore you've got professional eyes looking for depression. So one could suggest there isn't as big a disparity as the study I linked to above suggest.

But even more so, as I research and read what more paraplegic's have to say about their condition, I want to do right by them. It's natural for someone with all working limbs to look at someone in a wheelchair and think, "Boy, I would be depressed as hell if that happened to me." That's a pity reflex. It's understandable, but it's also kind of condescending. There are a lot of paraplegics who justifiably get pissed off at that, and say, "You may think there's something wrong with me, but I don't. I love my life."

When you're writing a character, it is that one individual. Sharon is supposed to be representative of Sharon, not an entire group of people. As things stand now, though, I don't have any other wheelchair-bound characters in Thunderstruck, so in a way, she does stand for a whole group of people. Which is both fair and unfair. For instance, if you see a story where you have one woman who is an absolute beast, it's always nice for there to be at least one other woman character who is more sympathetic, so you don't come away thinking, "Man, that author has some screwed-up ideas about women."

So that's the balancing act with the early Sharon chapters of Thunderstruck here. It's going along.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Progress Report: 8/23/2010

In terms of news, it's been a light week.

Okay, so I've been writing, I've been trying to get an agent, and that continues to go on. Until something breaks in the pattern, that doesn't qualify as news.

Er... so let's see. I'll do an author recommendation. Let's go with:


While I haven't read Peter Hamilton's full and impressive body of work, I've read enough to say that he's excellent. To date, I've read three books in his "Commonwealth" series, and I'm on the fourth.

The first of these books is Pandora's Star, and its opening chapter (the prologue) now ranks as one of my favorites. Without giving too much away, he starts with the first manned expedition to Mars in the near future. He sets the scene in a classic, Right Stuff sort of style, invoking all the pioneering spirit and pride that comes whenever you see a picture of Neil Armstrong stepping on the Moon. And then, when he's got you caught up in the momentous historic event, he throws in The Twist. Which sets the stage for the entire future universe he's created.

Sweetly done.

Hamilton has a very nice grasp on creating a plausible future world. The two main technologies that go into the creation of the human Commonwealth are a means of crossing vast distances very quickly (to enable space colonization) and cellular regeneration treatment (to enable long lifespans). The thought he puts into the culture that is built on these technologies is a big part of the fun. The Commonwealth comes across as a very plausible, scientifically-sound vision of the future.

Which makes it even more fun when he hits that next gear and we get humans-vs.-aliens interstellar war.

Contrast it, say, to the Star Wars series, which get labeled as science fiction by virtue of the fact that there are space ships and robots, but which is really fantasy. There's nothing particularly plausible about the technology or culture in the Star Wars movies. Hamilton's universe, on the other hand, is well-realized and quite convincing. It also makes you want to live there, which is a nice break from the dystopian futures that have become so popular in fiction.

And in terms of characters, voice, and plot, he's definitely got the skills.

But don't take my word for it! Smart author that he is, Peter Hamilton has sample chapters online. Go check out the prologue to Pandora's Star. If you like what you see, then you've got a lot of good reading ahead of you.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Progress Report: 8/9/2010

For a writer, one of the challenges of this information-rich age is how much of your life you want to reveal to the public.

I'm thinking of George R. R. Martin here, 'cuz he's a good example of what I'm talking about. So he's got a series in process, and the wait between books keeps getting longer. This happens for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the story is a big complicated epic monster, and I think that the longer you go on with something like that, the harder it is to keep all of that monster's heads focused on going the same direction. Fair enough.

Then there's the fact that as the series gets more popular, so does Mr. Martin. Which means he goes to more and more conventions. And does more interviews.

And the series itself gets more popular. Calendars, figurines, table-top games, video games, and an HBO show... and since he wants to be a good creator and take care of his creation properly, he's hands-on for all of these things to some degree.

Plus he writes other stuff. He contributes to short story anthologies and shepherds a long-running superhero fiction series called Wild Cards.

So it's hardly the picture of the writer in his secluded cabin, hammering away at a keyboard in isolation. And as the years drag on, and the wait stretches out, some fans start grumbling about when this next book is going to get done.

Which irritates Mr. Martin. For good reason... nobody wants to see the book finished more than him. Nobody feels that pressure more. And it's his life, his book. So when fans grumble and complain—Mr. Martin naturally gets annoyed. And other authors also get annoyed, like Neil Gaiman, who spelled out his feelings pretty plainly.

Mostly, I'm on Mr. Martin's side on this one, but I wonder if he's hurting himself by being as available to the public as he has let himself become. Yes, you want to promote your appearances and new products and so forth, and where's the harm posting about the football games Sunday? And those fans who wondered when you had time to work on the book in between going to a Tokyo SF con and rooting for the Jets to beat the Chargers can just deal, right? And the months roll by, the years roll by, and your book is still not done...

All in all, I think I'd rather be a recluse.

But I am posting my progress, so here it is: got some writing done, though mostly this was a week for catching up with the furious pace of work right now (I have the best team—we really support each other when one person is hammered, so I've been grateful for them this week) and dealing with a few irritating health problems.

Now, back to my cave.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Progress Report: 8/2/2010

I return!

In terms of progress, vacation was a good time for writing. I feel like I managed to clear away a significant chunk of the writer's block I've been dealing with for... oh, maybe the last 5 months or so. I did it by working on the follow-up to Rose & Jade.

I don't have the plot of the book hammered out yet, which is often enough to stop me. What I'm doing instead right now is writing scenes with the key characters as they come to mind. Whether or not these scenes will fit into the final story is not the important thing. I think any time you spend getting to know your characters is well-spent, and it already feels like these scenes are leading somewhere. When I've got a clearer picture, then it's time to go back to the outline, the plot, etc. For now, this is good.

It was damned good to take a break from the grind. I spent maybe three days of the vacation slowly smothering the "think about work" reflex, and then managed to get some peace from that. Now work is back, and yep, I'm thinking about it again. Hopefully with batteries recharged and fresh inspiration.

Another agent up, another agent down. The hunt continues.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Progress Report: 7/19/2010

Mostly a few odds and ends this week.

In writing news, I'm back on the path looking for the right agent. Another submission, another rejection. Most agents say something to the effect that they'll get back to you within six weeks, three months, etc. In my experience, they tend to get back to you in a couple of weeks or not at all. It's the "not at all" ones that are more frustrating, of course.

Got a short story gearing up that I'm enjoying working on. However, I think it's going to work a lot better in first person. That means some rewriting, but I'm confident it'll be worth it.

I loved Inception. Curiously, we met some of our neighbors as they were walking out of the theater, and they said they didn't enjoy it (or rather the wife said that... I got the impression that the husband enjoyed it more, but knew better than to argue). Their conclusion was that if you liked The Matrix, you'd like Inception. I can see why they'd suggest this, but I found it to be a flawed premise on many levels. The movies bear certain thematic similarities, but the execution is very different. And it's all in the execution, folks.

(I'm an oddball regarding the Matrix movies, in that I feel most warmly towards the second one. Most people I've talked to decry the second for its overindulgence in pointless style-over-substance, and I can't argue with that. What I liked about it was that in the end, it seemed to suggest that the entire Zion reality, the "real" world, was simply another level of Matrix, and that Neo wasn't a human being at all. I thought that redeemed the whole thing, since nothing about the Zion world made the slightest bit of sense if it was supposed to be real. It left the door wide open to take the third film in some exciting and unexpected directions. Unfortunately, they backed off that premise in the third film, which cemented Zion-reality as really-real and dissolved into a boring muddle. A pity.)

I'm going to be gone next week for vacation. When I go on vacation, I like to go as offline as possible. There are many ways that our work can follow us around via our various auxiliary brains (i.e., laptops, iPhones, etc.), so it becomes harder to truly extract oneself from normal life. I do all I can to make a clean break. So I'll miss next week's progress report, and I'll hopefully have some good writing time over vacation.

For Candi and me, we are approaching our 17th anniversary! This is the occasion around which the vacation pivots. Unlike birthdays, which tend to accumulate a coating of melancholy (and perhaps even dread) as they accumulate, anniversaries just get sweeter each year.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Progress Report: 7/12/2010

Success! Of a sort.

So, there is a small press publisher who reviewed Rose & Jade and was very impressed. In fact, he was so impressed that he informed me that he didn't feel he could do the book justice with his fairly limited distribution network. This is an agency that mostly publishes directly to Amazon and doesn't have much traction in the brick-and-mortar distribution networks.

The bottom line is that he would be willing to publish me, but thinks the book is good enough for a bigger, more mainstream launch than he could provide.

And that's pretty encouraging. It means back to the grind in looking for agents and publishers. On the other hand, if I can't make any headway, I do have someone I can go to that would publish the book on a more limited scale. With enough of a track record in a smaller market, it is possible to get noticed in more mainstream circles.

(The classic example that everyone likes to point to of this is John Grisham, who was rejected by every publisher and agent in this quadrant of the Milky Way, and printed up the book on a small press and sold it out of the trunk of his car. He sold so many that he was able to convince a publisher that yes, people are interested in reading his stories. And thus a star was born. It should be noted that for every John Grisham, there are plenty of other writers who don't end up with that kind of success, and there are ways that starting small can backfire on you. Still, the Grisham example shows that it can be done.)

All in all, it's pretty cool. I debated going with the small publisher and talked to a number of my friends and colleagues about it (I have the advantage of working at a publishing company, albeit one that does not publish fiction, so that gives me some valuable resources for getting advice). Ultimately, it seems like casting my line for an agent again is the way to go. It's nice to have a fallback option, though. It means that one way or another, this baby will see the light of day.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Progress Report: 7/6/2010

Long weekends are nice, but not necessarily great for getting work done. So the "progress" side of this week's progress report doesn't really look like much.

So let's have a couple of shout-outs instead.

First is for Marian Call. I first became aware of Marian because she won a contest for writing the best song honoring the character Saffron (or possibly Yolanda) from Firefly. This is a pretty obscure kind of endeavor, but it turns out Marian is really cool, and I enjoy her music immensely. She's in the midst of a 50-state road tour right now, and came through Boulder, so we got to see her this weekend. She plays tiny little venues (we saw her out behind a popular coffee shop) and asks only for donations. If you're keen, check her website out. She's still on the move and may be coming your way.

Look, anyone who can get a peaceful, idealistic crowd from Boulder singing "We're Out for Blood!" at the top of their lungs has something going for her.

Second shout-out is an excellent book called Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. If you ever find yourself on the defensive end of this argument about whether media violence turns kids into murderers (as I have), this book is an invaluable resource. It's also very well-written and an excellent read.

The author, Gerard Jones, takes the seemingly obvious but daring route of asking "Why?" That is to say, if violent stories and images are so bad for kids (and adults), why are we so attracted to them? What is fantasy violence actually doing for our minds? Turns out there's a strong case to be made that it helps us control our tendencies for real-world violence... the opposite of the "it turns kids into killers" premise. Jones lays out his evidence very well, and the book is worth a read.

I haven't finished the book yet, but there's one study I'm reminded of that I think Jones probably doesn't mention, because it doesn't actually have to do with children. In one of these experiments where they taught sign language to chimps, there was an interesting side-effect that was unanticipated. When the chimps got mad, they developed this behavior of coming up to each other and making the sign for "bite" or "hit." So a mad chimp would come up to another chimp and basically say "Bite you! Bite you!" instead of actually doing it. If memory serves, this accompanied a reduction in actual fights between the chimps.

Fantasy violence working on the primate level. Maybe it even helped us survive.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Progress Report: 6/29/2010

Pardon my absence yesterday. It was a sick day.

The question on my mind this week for writing is with regards to vampires, specifically as they appear in Thunderstruck. I have been toying with the outline to see if there is some way to sub out vampires with some other entity.

It just seems like vampires are starting to get really overplayed. I can't keep track of all the vampire shows, movies, and books out there now. I don't watch/read any of them, and I'm still sick to death of them. Especially the vampires of the romantic teenage variety. Can you imagine a worse hell than being stuck in high school for all eternity?

Still, there are advantages to using them. The familiarity with vampires means you don't have to spend a lot of time explaining them to the reader, which is convenient. And in terms of Thunderstruck specifically, it's hard to find a substitute that will cause the least damage to the plot. Not that I mind making changes, but the element where Gail looks like she would be capable of curing a vampire is pretty critical, not to mention Bella's contingency plan...

And if I take out the vampires, does that mean that Stephanie Meyer wins?

So I think I'll stick with them, and just make sure they don't ever show up as anything like the teenage romantic variety that's so popular.

And no werewolves or zombies. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Progress Report: 6/21/2010

A report on the Critters Experience so far.

I am currently a member of the Critters website, which is a kind of large online critique group for fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Every week, people contribute, on average, 10-20 stories. These are chapters of novels or short stories. As a member, you're required to critique at least one submission per week (and very short submissions count as only half a credit). If you decide to critique someone's whole novel, you will get a large number of critique credits based on the length of the book.

There are two other basic features of Critters that it's best to know about.

The first is that it uses a very archaic formatting standard -- pure simple text. This can be a little frustrating. You have to filter out any special characters (smart quotes, accents, stuff like that) for anything you submit. You also can't use italics or other advanced formatting, though there are various ways to indicate formatting in pure text. All commentary is done in old-school email style, like this.

>Fred noticed the bat circling his head had suddenly
>begun to fly counterclockwise. He wondered what that
>could possibly mean.

You might consider using "widdershins" instead of "counterclockwise."

The other thing about Critters is that you are required by the rules to be very, very, very polite. Now, I'm all for being polite and considerate. I've known a number of people who seem to think there's a virtue in being harsh with their criticism, and relish "tearing into" another writer. This kind of criticism is usually accompanied with something like, "Hey, I'm just calling it as I see it," or "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." I find there's generally a way to phrase any sort of reasonable criticism in a way that isn't deliberately savage.

But in Critters, it goes to a pretty serious extreme. The rules state that you need to be ultra-polite even when correcting basic grammar. So instead of this:

>"Don't feed cinnamon to the lungfish" he shouted.

"lungfish," shouted

... where you just indicate the placement of the missing comma, you have to go with something like this:

>"Don't feed cinnamon to the lungfish" he shouted.

I believe there should be a comma after "lungfish" here, as in "lungfish," he shouted.

Because, after all, everything is just your opinion, even basic grammar, apparently. And you have to make it clear that you're just offering you opinion every time.

So that gets a little tedious. I suppose erring on the side of politeness is not the worst policy to have on the Internet, but still. Sheesh.

Anyway, there have been some good stories and some pretty rough stories that I've critiqued so far, as one might expect. I think it's a good place, and I'll keep with it until I find a more intimate critique group that I can be a part of, either in person or online. We'll see what happens when I submit something for critique, though.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Progress Report: 6/14/2010

So here I thought this would be good time to take a day off from work -- have a nice long weekend, get some writing done, enjoy some hiking, that sort of thing. Then I pinch a nerve in my neck and spend most of the weekend in considerable pain. Plus, it rains all weekend.

Well, so much for that plan.

The old mutant healing factor does seem to be repairing the damage, so pain is diminishing today. It makes concentration difficult, this pain stuff. I'll be relieved when it finally subsides.

Given the circles I run in (such as my work place), it's no surprise that I run into the Gaia philosophy a lot. Roughly expressed, this is the idea that the planet has a consciousness, or the "Earth as God" (Goddess, perhaps). This is expressed in all sorts of ways, great and small, and people believe it to various degrees.

So let's go with that for now. Say there is a Gaia consciousness -- I certainly can't say with certainty that there is or isn't. With regards to the Gulf spill, it would seem to me that the question is not: "Why are we doing this to the planet?" I've heard variations on that one a lot, along with the idea that the planet is suffering, crying out, being raped, etc.

If one does accept the Gaia consciousness idea, then I think the question should be: "Why is the planet doing this to itself?" Because we are, after all, a part of the planet. We would be an agency of Gaia. Like every other animal, we try to spread our population, we consume things that give us energy, and we affect the environment through our behavior. The planet, if it is acting at all, is acting through us, as much as it acts through any ant colony, kelp bed, or volcanic eruption.

This is not to absolve us of responsibility, nor to suggest that we shouldn't try to avoid things like the Gulf spill. It's not to imply we couldn't do great harm to ourselves through our actions, or even drive ourselves to extinction if we really go overboard (extinction is an essential part of the planetary history). It's just that the mindset of separation from the Earth doesn't seem to do us much good. Even Gaia believers seem to hold this separation, as if our actions are somehow distinct from the consciousness of the Earth. Which, I think, undermines the whole idea of Gaia in the first place.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Progress Report: 6/7/2010

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a professional writer. That being said, "professional writer" describes a very large territory. I'm in one region of that territory now, writing copy for a living. Since I love the company and (most of) the products, I'm happy to be here.

And there are some dark regions of being a professional writer that I would fear to explore.

I say this because I see they have created Marmaduke: The Movie. My mind reels when I think of having to write the script for such an entity. This was assuredly a studio decision: "What property have we not mined yet? What about that comic about the dog? You know, the big one that gets up on the couch and drools... that stuff is golden. I want to see a script treatment by tomorrow morning!"

This would be nothing but a paycheck job. Sure, life is full of them. We all have to do them. Writing such a script would be the soul-level equivalent of filling out your tax forms. It would be a chore to complete as soon as you possibly could, hopefully under a pseudonym. I feel for the people who were stuck with that job.

And, thinking about it, I'd probably do it. If I were a professional screenwriter and hadn't made enough of a name to say "no" to projects I didn't like, or if I was in a dry spell for work and needed something to pay the bills. Marmaduke? Sure, why not. It's a lousy job, but low pressure. Nobody's expecting the next Inherit the Wind here. If I manage to actually shoehorn in a few genuinely funny moments that don't get lopped out by the director, maybe I can look back on it without grimacing.

I think I'd use the pseudonym, though.

Still waiting, waiting, waiting on Rose & Jade. I can see that light there at the end of the tunnel for work, though, so I'm optimistic about more good writing time in the near future.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Progress Report: 6/1/2010

It's said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. June, I would have to say, comes in like a ninja.

As in, "What, already? How did this happen?" That tends to be my reaction to June.

In terms of progress, there isn't much to report this week. I took the long weekend off, and I was happy to do it. Now it's back to work, back to plotting and scheming and writing.

See you guys next week.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Progress Report: 5/24/2010

So I wrote the agent who's looking at Rose & Jade, and nothing terrible befell me. A crack did not open up in the ground to swallow me up, and I was neither struck blind nor covered with boils. Peculiar, isn't it? I do have a sore shoulder, but I think that can be traced to a more obvious cause.

Anyway, the agent says that he is now showing my story to a few other readers to get a consensus. He tells me that this is a time-consuming process and apologizes for the slowness. All this sounds fairly promising to me. My limited experience with agents so far is they don't need any kind of consensus to tell them what they don't like, and it's not time-consuming when they're telling you to blow off (generally, they're very polite about it, so don't take that to mean they're deliberately mean. It's still no fun). I know that a project has many chances to de-rail and it could easily happen any time, but it is kind of encouraging to have gotten a little farther down the tracks this time.

Also: I now have a laptop! A fine Mac laptop inherited from my good friend Andrew, and much more potent than anything I could have afforded to buy. Now it's a matter of getting some writing done on it. Work continues to dominate, but the end of this stretch is in sight. Perhaps a couple more weeks before the schedule settles back into something that permits breathing and a re-channeling of creative energy.

Work itself can be very rewarding, at least. Sometimes I get to work with material that is simply outstanding, as was recently the case. I have been writing the copy for an audio program with Howard Thurman, and it's been amazing to listen to him. He was Martin Luther King's spiritual mentor, to create the historical context, and I thought that the hook for the package copy would be about Thurman's legacy, his place in the Civil Rights movement, and that sort of thing. What I realized is that if someone walked into the studio and recorded the same material off the street, it would still be awesome.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Progress Report: 5/17/2010

I just did something that I was advised not to do, which is to bug the agent to whom I sent my manuscript to see how it's coming along. It occurred to me after sending the email that I never did confirmation from him that he'd gotten the manuscript in the first place. I just assume it went through, but sometimes with large attachments, things don't work properly.

So we'll see.

Sometimes, you have to ignore advice. Actually, I'm getting to the point right now where I've hit advice overload. How to get published, how to write for the mass market, the rules of dealing with agents, the rules of contacting editors, the rules of structuring a story, the rules of character, the rules of dialogue, the rules of... AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHH!

Many bits of advice contradict one another, or at least don't line up properly. Many other bits of advice seem sound, and then you see exceptions littered all around. So I think it's time to put a bit of a hold on advice. It can get paralyzing after a while.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Progress Report: 5/10/2010

Still deep in the busy stretch for work, and that looks like it will last well into June. Which means that my blog updated here will probably be pretty light, barring some kind of wonderful agent news or something like that.

George R. R. Martin just invited a pretty hearty debate about fanfiction over on his blog (link here), and I think we got down to the heart of the matter on his third post. I haven't read all the replies, but judging from how his tone has changed, enough people must've told him that he was overestimating the issue about legal fears. Many authors have made a peaceful relationship with the fanfic community. Indeed, if you read Free by Chris Anderson, you can easily see how a robust fanfiction community can ultimately help the profits of the creator by creating free publicity and interest. It certainly happened with a lot of anime and manga.

It's not really a legal issue, it's a personal issue. The short of it is that he doesn't want his view of characters or a story poisoned by some writer's crappy or disrespectful version of things. And since most fanfiction (though not all) is pretty bad, it's a legit concern. Once you strip away his reason-based arguments, which can be refuted or challenged, what it boils down to is an emotional response from a man who takes stories very seriously. And I respect that.

(I find it fascinating that Martin brings up Alien 3 as an example of how stories can get spoiled by a bad installment. I can't think of a movie I hate more than Alien 3, so I really sympathize with his point on that.)

Martin also says that "consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds," which accounts for his own ventures into the grey areas of fanfiction. He contributed pretty heavily tot he whole Suduvu character battle thing, including some pieces of fanfic all his own. And yes, it was supposedly all done with permission (I have my doubts about that... Aragorn and Gandalf were in that contest, and I don't see Christopher Tolkien as giving his blessing for that sort of thing). It was still fanfiction. Publishing a RPG based on your world and characters is also entering some fuzzy territory, since it's basically giving permission for people to play in your world with your characters.

What it boils down to is that his real emotional objection is to bad fanfiction... and indeed, bad fiction in general. Not poor writing, but existing characters abused by authors who either don't understand them or don't respect them (a problem that exists whenever you switch writers -- he brings up both comics and the Alien movies as examples). Since there's no way to police fanfiction quality, and since much of it is indeed quite bad, Martin is pretty much against it as a rule.

I can respect that. Even when I was writing fanfiction, which I don't really do now (I dabbled again with the Suduvu thing), there were only some things that I felt like being a part of. Mostly I did Ranma 1/2 fanfiction, of course. I thought Ranma was the perfect subject for fanfiction, because the original material was both good enough and bad enough. The author, Rumiko Takahashi, never took it very seriously. In fact, some of the storylines she wrote were embarrassingly stupid, and would've been scorned as fanfiction if they hadn't actually been part of her canon. This is to say nothing of the anime version, which got unwatchably bad after a while. So while you had a core group of fun characters and wide-open possibilities in Ranma, it was also hard to abuse it much worse than the original creator already had, unless you went for something really depraved.

I may differ with Martin in vehemence about fanfiction, but I've pretty much gone off it myself. It's more fun to play in worlds of my own.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Progress Report: 5/3/2010

At work, there are three basic speeds:
  1. Busy
  2. Very Busy
  3. Mega Hyper Super-Overdrive Busy (in a white wine sauce)
Last week, and this week as well, we're on the third option. In fact, we may be on the third setting until about mid-June. At which point I am likely to invoke the "I need to take some days off or I'll melt into a puddle of useless protoplasm" clause.

Such times of Option Three are traditionally not very good for writing, since there's so much energy being dumped into work. However, if I let stuff like that derail me completely, I'll never get anything accomplished. So I signed up for

I haven't had much luck with finding a critique group, though I've been testing options since late last year. Ruling out the local, face-to-face options, none of which seem to work, we're left with the Internet. is a big online critique community for Fantasy and SF writers, so it seemed like a good place to start.

My feeling right now is that I would eventually like to narrow it down and develop a smaller, more personal critique circle, where all the writers know each other and commit to supporting and improving each others' work. For now, it seems the best option is to make some contact with other authors through a larger site and see who clicks.

In laptop news, my good friend Andrew offered to pass along his old Mac laptop to me, which is terrific. The sole hurdle to this is prying it from the clutching hands of his psychotic tenant. Have you ever met someone in real life who was such a walking, talking stereotype that you would never dream of writing that person as a fictional character? That's what this tenant is like. She is, in many ways, stranger than fiction.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Progress Report: 4/26/2010

With regards to agent news... still no sign of land. Fortunately, the supplies are in good shape, so I don't think we'll be resorting to cannibalism any time soon.

Got some good work done on the Thunderstruck outline this week. I also got bashed in the head by another story. Sometimes, a story comes bubbling up in a dream, and it's sufficiently compelling that I have to pursue it. I was asked by a friend if this happens often. Hmm... how often does it need to happen to be considered "often"? Once or twice a year seems about right, at least for the amount of time I have right now for writing.

Sometimes, these stories don't actually hold up that well when they start to appear on paper, which only makes sense. Dreams have their own weird internal logic. Sometimes, there's no fixing a dream story's inherent "dream-ness."

The one thing I almost never seem to get from a story that comes to me in a dream is an ending. This can be a real challenge. The first novel I got seriously going with is called The Boy in the Glass, and it came from a dream. The first several chapters were all right there with perfect clarity, to the point that I was practically able to transcribe them verbatim from memory. Neat! They set up an excellent character and a fascinating mystery that changes her life... and then, I don't know what it means. The agony is that I'm sure that in the dream I did know what it all meant, and I lost it.

I want to get back to that novel again, damn it. I know there's a solution in there somewhere.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Games, Art, and Ebert


In terms of movie critics, Roger Ebert is my favorite... so I do wish he would stop embarrassing himself with his strange compulsion to extend his criticism to video games. Really, he hasn't got a leg to stand on. Since he does not and (by his own declaration) will not ever play video games, what credence can he possibly have? It's like a movie critic who never watches movies.

What compels Ebert to keep poking this hornet's nest? Is it a love for attention? He already gets plenty of that. Is it sheer elderly crotchety-ness? Conceivably, though it's a disappointing idea. One of the things I admire about Ebert as a movie critic is that he is almost always willing to take a movie on its own terms. He will critique an action movie on whether or not it is a good action movie, not sneer at it for daring not to be an art film.

If only he would extend the same courtesy to games.

In any case, I like Tycho's statement on the Penny Arcade blog, regardless of the personal barbs directed at Ebert as a person (barbed words are Tycho's stock and trade, after all). Ebert is, of course, arguing in bad faith. He is setting the goalposts wherever he damn well pleases, whimsically defining the terms of the discussion as it suits him, and happily and unrepentantly speaking from a place of ignorance. Here's a good example from Ebert's essay:

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them.
Translation: "I'm going to define a video game the way I want to define it, nyah nyah."

There are, as many have pointed out to him, countless games that are not about "winning" or "losing." They are about the experience. You don't play to win, anymore than you "win" by getting to the end of a book you're reading.

An honest discussion is one thing. Ebert is offering nothing of the sort, which is a pity. He's capable of better than that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Progress Report: 4/19/2010

I'm going to have some words with the Internet.

By and large, it's a wonderful thing, yet there are some things about the Internet that I hate. Heading that list this week is the difficulty that arises in avoiding spoilers. There I was, innocently checking out a webcomic, when lo-and-behold a big, fat, and unexpected spoiler popped onto my screen, more or less giving away the ending of Jim Butcher's latest Harry Dresden novel, Changes. No "spoiler warning" or anything... not that it would've helped, probably. I was ambushed by another such spoiler on DeviantArt, and yet another on a blog.

Honestly. What a pain. I'm listening to Changes right now and enjoying it immensely. Certainly it's possible to enjoy a story when you know the ending, but I think I would've preferred to get there on my own. This is not the first time that the Internet has hit me with a spoiler in the surprising and unwelcome manner of a sniper plugging a victim from a hundred yards away.

Also, my particular Internet continues to have little crashes here and there. Short, but irksome... I'm glad I don't play games online. If these could be timed in some way that they happen before you stumble on a spoiler, that would be a feature instead of a bug, but alas, it is not the case.

Yet another persistent issue with the Internet, and this is more my fault than the Net's, is that it is a goddamned massive distraction. This is why I am getting a non-Internet laptop, hopefully very cheap and used, for writing. I actually have an old laptop that used to serve that purpose and serve it well, but it's about at the end of its rope. This ancient creature has no USB ports, no Ethernet, and basically no way of transmitting data to other computers besides writing it on a floppy disc. Makes it difficult to get the writing off the computer. It also weighs about as much as a fully-grown Basset Hound.

In terms of Thunderstruck, I'm back at the outline stage, grinding away. You would think the comic would make a perfectly adequate outline, or at least that's what I thought. However, I've knocked over some dominoes in the rewrite, and now I'm pretty much stuck until I can figure out where they all fall down. Outlining isn't the most fun part of life, but it's necessary.

For me, anyway. Some writers talk about sitting down and letting the story flow without knowing where it's going at all. That works okay for a short story, but with a novel, every time I've tried it I find that I paint myself into a corner.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Progress Report: 4/12/2010

Another week, another submission to an agent. This one also wanted to see the whole manuscript--that makes two now. Still haven't heard back from the first agent who has the whole story.

>twiddle, twiddle.<

Thus far, I've been doing electronic submissions only, but the agent I just submitted to wanted the printed manuscript. Weird to see the story as a massive block of pages, printed in double-space, single-sided. 98,000 words looks pretty substantial from that vantage. The contest at Suduvu is over, and it would appear that Rand Al'Thor from the Wheel of Time series is the winner. I am not a Wheel of Time fan. I have listened to most of them on audio--I like to fill up my commute with audio books, and one characteristic of Robert Jordan's series is that the books are long, so they last a while.

(There was a relative scarcity of audio books for a long time, and I pretty much devoured anything I could get out of the library. This accounts for my familiarity with a number of books that I would never have slogged through under other circumstances. Now, I have an Audible account, and I am never wanting for audio books anymore.)

The fanboy wars in the discussion thread are fascinating to behold. It has made me wonder about the psychology of fandom.

Let's not use the Wheel of Time as a specific example. I think any one of you can think of something that is a) extremely popular, and b) of low quality. You read these books, and if you're knowledgeable about the craft of writing, you know that nobody would ever teach an aspiring author to write that way. There are classes, conferences, and seminars devoted towards teaching people to write better than that.

Yet there it is. Cardboard characters, stilted dialogue, ludicrous plot, bad pacing... you name it, it's right in there in some of the bestselling books of all time.

The inescapable conclusion is that books (or any other storytelling) of low quality can still touch people. Somehow, it resonates so deeply with fans that they not only enjoy the books, they absorb them into their identity. The stories start to define them in important ways. I think every author wants to reach readers at that level, so it's weird to see it happen with poor quality material.

This is something that goes beyond discernment. People don't become fanboys/fangirls because they like something they know is kind of stupid. I think we can all walk out of a theater after the latest action blockbuster and say, "Well, that was dumb, but fun." That's the most basic level of discernment. The next level is more difficult for people to grasp--that is, when something is of high quality, but you don't enjoy it personally. Many people seem to be unable to recognize that something they don't like can still be good.

To enter the zone of the fanboy, though, means discernment goes out the window. Listen to the fanboys, and you will hear them say that the object of their affection is not only good, but the best thing ever written.

One of the Robert Jordan fans, for instance, argued passionately that Jordan's treatment of men and women was not only good, but the most accurate, spot-on, insightful depiction of the relationship between the sexes ever written. Understand that these are books where adults routinely spank one another or box each others' ears in order to communicate. Yet to this fan, his writing is masterful.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but it's fascinating to me. I think it's too easy to dismiss fanboys of poor quality storytelling as being people with no taste. That's not enough of an answer. Their experiences are real and valid, their love is sincere (though they may eventually outgrow it--younger fans especially have torrid affairs with stories and characters, only to burn out and move on to the next thing as they grow. Adult fanboys tend to settle in for more lasting commitments). I don't think you can set out, as a writer, to touch that kind of chord with a large group of people. It just has to happen.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Progress Report: 4/5/2010

Ugh. Ill today.

Working along, not big progress to report in any direction. Though it seems like something's bubbling up from my subconscious, because I have had several new book ideas this week. Well, two and a half. Nothing to be scorned.

Ideas are not precisely a dime a dozen, but they are a lot cheaper than finished product. So on to more writing...

(Sorry this is so short. I feel very tired from this fever.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Progress Report: 3/29/2010

I've been doing my Penelope impersonation this week, unraveling my previous work and re-weaving it. According to the advice I've gotten about the matter, it seems that writing a novel in present tense will make it more difficult to sell. So I've had to go back to Thunderstruck and shift what I'd written so far to past tense.

The convention in current publishing is that present tense is all right for short stories, not so much for novels. And when you're not an established author, it's not a good idea to give any prospective agent/editor an easy reason to chuck your manuscript on the junk pile.

Really, it's not too bad. While the first chapter was ideal for present tense (which is why I went that way in the first place), the rest of what I've written wasn't really enhanced by it. Present tense, I believe, gives the story more immediacy and more tension. The downside is that it feels like it gets tiring to read after a while, which is not a good thing for a novel.

Speaking of Thunderstruck, one of the things I feel like I skimmed somewhat in the comic version was Sharon's (and to a lesser extent, Gail's) experience immediately after her miraculous healing, when she was trying to go the scientific route of understand what had happened to her. I am gnawing around with different ways to flesh that part out. It isn't a speculative stretch to say that her case would be written off as anecdotal, no matter how incredible it was. There are, and continue to be, spontaneous recoveries that happen all the time. On the whole, they're ignored. The generous version of why they are ignored is that it's impossible to reproduce these events in a clinical setting (much less a lab), so there's no point in studying them. The less generous version would say that it's because science deliberately does not want to look at certain things that could upset a reductionist worldview. I think it's a bit of both, myself.

Just finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is not what you'd call a gentle book, and I couldn't put it down. Roger Ebert recently reviewed a film version out of Sweden which he thought was quite superb. I have mixed feelings about wanting to see the story in cinema. On one hand, there's some very nasty stuff in there that might be hard to take on the screen. On the other hand, it's a damned good story.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Progress Report: 3/22/2010

Nothing like the joy of doing one's taxes to get the creative juices going. Or not.

Still waiting to hear back from the prospective agent for Rose & Jade. Having never gotten this far in the process, I don't know if the fact that he's taking his time is a good or a bad sign. So I sit gnawing my fingernails and generally trying not to dwell, since it doesn't particularly help.

To take my mind off things (and since my Thunderstruck writing wasn't getting anywhere this week), I did a little fanfiction. I found from George R. R. Martin's blog that there is an amusing little contest going on where fantasy and SF characters are pitched against one another in a "cage match." I'm sort of a sucker for these things, and since it was especially challenging to figure out how Martin's one-handed knight, Jaime Lannister, could possibly prevail over Cthulhu, I ended up writing a story to explain how it could be done. A silly exercise, I know, but I enjoyed it.

Speaking of writing... does anybody have opinions out there about using present tense as the narrative structure of a novel. I don't think it's done very often. I know Neal Stephenson did it in Snow Crash, and I thought it worked, but that doesn't mean anybody can get away with it.

I ask because it's something I've run into with Thunderstruck that's giving some doubts. I wrote the first chapter in present tense because it was perfect for what was going on. However, after that, it seems to be a kind of take-it-or-leave-it stylistic choice. What I don't know is if it's considered un-kosher by most publishers right now. That is to say, I don't know if I'm hurting my chances of getting it published by writing in present tense. And if I am, I don't want to get too far along, then need to go back and re-write in normal old past tense.

Anybody have any insights on this?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Progress Report: 3/15/2010

For writing, the exciting news this week is that I've gotten a nice tug on the line for Rose & Jade from an agent. After reading the first chapter, he wrote back and asked to see the whole manuscript. This is a first for me.

So whatever comes of this development, I feel like it was time well spent going back and re-writing the first chapters of the story. I know that I feel more confident sending them along now. I have to admit there was a kind of nagging doubt in the back of my head before whenever an agent asked to see the first chapter(s) to get an idea about the book as a whole. I kept trying to figure out excuses for sending later chapters along, since I feel the story picks up a lot of momentum as it goes. Of course, nothing makes sense unless you read the earlier chapters, so that was never really an option.

Anyway, I don't feel that sense of doubt anymore. Funny thing is that it didn't take huge changes to make the opening chapters better. Although it took a fair amount of time to come up with them.

In other news, I am an uncle again! Congrats to my older brother John and his wife, Teuta, on their second child. His name is Erik. Apparently, all the details are on Facebook, and I think this means I'm going to have to break down and get on Facebook myself. This is something I have resisted for a long time, but the sheer social gravity of this thing is overwhelming.

Also, it's perhaps my least favorite time of the year, which is the time shift forward. I despise Daylight Savings time. Pick a time and stick with it, damn it. Enough of this mandated jetlag.

Here's compromise: set the clocks back permanently half an hour and be done with it. Sure it'll throw off all the international time zones and inconvenience the hell out of the rest of the world, but we're Americans! That's what we do! Rugged individualism and all that.

Eh, maybe it isn't such a hot idea.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Progress Report: 3/8/2010

Think I'll take a little time off work this week and try to get more writing in. Last week was kind of poor for productivity.

More agent submissions in, more irons in the fire. A tip for aspiring writers: Some agents don't ever write back. They all claim they will on their website, which is nice of them, but I wouldn't take it to heart. Right now about 25%-30% of the agents I submitted to never responded. I'll take that as a "no."

Let's see, in terms of books I've been reading, I have good news and bad news.

The good news is Free: The Future of Radical Price by Chris Anderson is an excellent read. This is the editor for Wired who also wrote the essential book, The Long Tail. In Free, he lays out a very thorough overview of how the digital age economy got to where it is today, and perhaps where we are going with it. The book offers some solutions as to how one can make money by giving away things for free, which is the core conundrum of the web. Some folks have made a killing doing it right, like Google. And some folks, like YouTube and Facebook, are immensely popular but haven't actually made a dime (unless you count being bought).

The best part is that if you go to Audible, you can get the download of his book for free. So he puts his money where his mouth is on this.

(I always appreciate a good non-fiction writer, because so many of them are full of interesting information but can't seem to deliver it in an engaging way. Science writing suffers from this problem worse than any non-fiction field. Good science writers, like Carl Sagan and Robert Bakker, are a treasure.)

Okay, now the bad news.

Since I've got a book to sell in the Young Adult market, I like to check out some of the successful authors in this genre. I already know enough about Twilight not to touch it, so the next big book-turned-movie story was Percy Jackson. I started up The Lightning Thief and chugged along for a while. It wasn't exactly wowing me—definitely a Harry Potter knockoff, featuring a downtrodden hero with a secret birthright, hints at some kind of big destiny, and a summer camp that was clearly a bargain-bin Hogwarts ("Camp Half-Blood?" The Greek gods create a sanctuary for their offspring and the best they can come up with is "Camp Half-Blood?" Ooookay...). I also thought it was a mistake to choose 1st-person narrative for this story.

It was going along tolerably up to a point, and then WHAM. I'm out of the book.

(Let me see if I can explain this without spoilers. I'll call this a Spoiler Warning, though, so reader beware if you're planning to check out the book.)

Fairly early in the story, something terrible happens to Percy. He loses someone important. This should be a moment of defining tragedy for him. For maybe two paragraphs, he's thinking about this tragedy.

And then he gets a magic milkshake, and it's all better!

Seriously. His friend gives him some kind of energy drink that tastes to him like cookies, and he's all fine again. He's ready for his next adventure. No more tragedy for little Percy. He wanders off into Camp Half-Blood, meets a bunch of people, and even his favorite teacher-friend doesn't even bother to console him on his loss. Why should he? Magic milkshake solved the problem, after all.

Pop! I'm out of the book, just like that. I can't even think of Percy as a person anymore—I can't even dislike him. The story has been ripped away, and all I can see is the author, Rick Riordan, banging along on his keyboard and making a colossal mistake. I put it down and went on to the next thing.

I suppose there's a chance that someone out there has read this thing from start to finish, or has seen the movie, so perhaps you can tell me if Riordan provides any excuse later on as to why the Magic Milkshake basically cored Percy of his human soul and turned him into a Stepford Boy-God. Perhaps Riordan redeems this scene later on in some way, and I was simply too put off by the whole thing to wait around for the payoff. Or perhaps not.

Anyway, if this is the sort of thing that qualifies as a big success story in the Young Adult Fantasy market, it shouldn't be that hard to break in.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Progress Report: 3/1/2010

And the Winter Olympics are over. Sad to see them go, although it does mean I will be getting a proper amount of sleep. I got the eerie impression that the coverage on NBC was all designed around a conspiracy to force viewers to watch bobsled. I like pretty much all the events except the ones where they have to slide down an ice chute.

So with regards to writing, I have entered Rose & Jade into a 1st novel contest on Wordhustler. Wordhustler is a writer networking site for finding agents, editors, etc., and does a bunch of other writer-related stuff. It seems a good service, though I have my doubts about the name. A "hustler" to me is either a con artist or a rather skanky porn magazine, and neither of those is the association I'd want to draw for my business. Oh well.

Much of my energy went into my job work last week, so not a whole lot of time for writing. Besides, my inner naysayer has come for a visit. The inner critic is an essential part of writing, but the inner naysayer doesn't have anything of value to add. This is the voice that just says, "It's terrible! Everything you've ever written is all terrible! Give it up!"

Anybody else get that? I expect it's not all that uncommon.

I've learned not to get worked up about this voice. I don't meet it with much struggle, just a kind of acknowledgment: "Oh, there you are, naysayer. I see you." It goes away on its own before long. Kind of difficult to work with it clattering around like a noisy neighbor, but as long as I know it isn't actually correct and that it's just a little bundle of insecure nerves that fires off every so often, it doesn't do any real damage. I'll see if it's quieted down this week. Meanwhile, more agent queries on the way.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Progress Report: 2/22/2010

Yes, well... working along, basically. That's the progress report.

Okay, I can give you a little more than that. Going from the comic version of Thunderstruck to a print incarnation is a very interesting experience. It's true that I lose the ability to tell the story through art, which gives you tools that prose doesn't have. By the same token, I have the opportunity to go deeper in a lot of other ways. Mapping the internal geography of each character is done more from the inside than the outside. By that I mean that the drawn Sharon can express herself through facial carriage and body language much more than the prose Sharon, while the prose Sharon can give you more of what's going on in her head. It's an interesting trade-off.

Another difference, though, is that the comic version is very literal, while the prose version gives me freedom to speak in metaphor. Comic artists have been trying to cope for this a while using visual metaphor, which is a technique I only use sparingly. Manga art has a whole vocabulary of visual metaphor. Still, nothing beats the written word. I can say something like: "the earth itself seems to rise Psyche’s feet as if it cannot bear to be separated from her." Without resorting to the unbearably clunky tool of the narrative balloon, that's not the sort of thing you can really do in a comic.

Okay, so while I'm here...

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Look, this one was an assignment for work. One of the authors we publish is Lynne McTaggart, who is cited as one of the main influences for The Lost Symbol. And since I handle the ad copy for Lynne McTaggart, it fell to me to know something about what was in Dan Brown's latest big book. After all, as The Da Vinci Code proved, his books can make a sale-influencing impact on other related material.

So I'll start with the good.

Hold on. Still thinking.


Okay, so there's something kind of compelling about the way Dan Brown writes, which is to say it carries you along in a reasonably good thriller fashion. The big mystery is why this should be the case, since there isn't an interesting or realistic character in the whole thing, and usually it's concern for the characters that allows tension to build. His research is interesting, though I would never take anything from a Dan Brown book as true or accurate until I looked it up myself (worst offender was his book called Digital Fortress from a decade or so ago, which I abandoned halfway through when it became clear to me that every single "fact" in the entire book was demonstrably wrong).

Hmm. I was trying to write "the good," and I seem to be throwing in caveats left and write. So let's get to "the bad."

There is much, much too much to cover in a mini-review on the topic of the bad. I'll just hit on a few points.

Brown writes with a sledgehammer. There's not a subtle moment in the whole thing. For someone who loves to talk about symbology and the multi-layered meanings of things, he's big on spelling everything out ad nauseum so even the thickest reader will get the point. One expression of this is his "astonishment moments." Something is revealed to the character, and they react with such utter bewildered surprise that they practically fall over. This happens all the time, often with things that are not, or should not be, even slightly startling.

There's a particular plot twist in The Lost Symbol that Dan Brown tries to set up, and his inability to do subtlety makes it painful to watch. He telegraphs the true identity of the villain pretty early in the book. And then he spends the entire book trying to conceal that identity, so he can reveal it in the final dramatic moment. It's like trying to watch a stage magician with cards spilling out of his sleeves still trying to pull off his trick. I ended up feeling sorry for the author, which is probably not the emotion he intended to evoke.

And then there's the reveal of the Big Secret. With Da Vinci Code, at least the secret was something interesting. In this case, though, it's a Ruby Slippers moment. By that I mean it's one of these "You had the answer with you all the time!" revelations, and boy, those are hard to pull off. The secret in The Lost Symbol is a big fat lot of nothing. The fact that our protagonist, who we are reminded constantly is a Harvard symbologist, finds this "incredible" obvious revelation to be the least bit surprising means they're letting any doofus teach at Harvard these days in Dan Brown's world. What's more, the whole book is spent with characters risking their lives, sanity, body parts, etc. trying to protect this deep dark secret, and nobody expresses the least shred of bitterness that it was all to protect a "mystery" that could be found in pretty much any bookstore in the world.

In short, it was a Dan Brown book. What did I expect?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Progress Report: 2/15/2010

Okay, so... not much to report this week. I'm refining my query letter for agents, and showing it to some other people to see how it stands up. I'm in a bit of a waiting pattern here.

I think I'm battling a cold on and off here.

Well then, let's see...

Under the Dome by Stephen King.

If I had to rank Dome in the overall library of Stephen King's books, It'd land somewhere around the same spot as Needful Things. In both books, King focuses on a very large cast of characters, trying to capture the essence of a small town in the grips of a growing crisis. On the whole, I prefer it when he focuses more on a smaller cast and gives us time to know them better. I never felt the sense of attachment to the protagonists of Under the Dome as I normally get in a King book.

And thematically, I would say that I felt the emotional impact of the story was reduced for me somewhat by the fact that the villain was so reprehensible. See, Under the Dome shares a kind of thematic resonance with Lord of the Flies. Normal folks are put in a situation where they're cut off from the rest of the world, and the civilized veneer breaks down to reveal both the scarier and more heroic parts of us. All well and good. However, the main villain of Dome is never "normal" to begin with. He starts out about as vile a human being as imaginable, and when the town is cut off, he gets a temporary and dangerous boost of status that drives the plot. It's not bad, but I don't think it's as powerful as it could've been if everyone had started off more or less unremarkable, and we'd seen their true natures emerge as their isolation continued.

Anyway, it's a pretty good read and there are always good moments in a King book. This one doesn't rank with my favorites of recent years, but it's a solid entry.


First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher.

The last installment of Butcher's epic Codex Alera fantasy series. At the outset, Butcher expressed his desire to create a high fantasy story in the tradition of Lord of the Rings. Did he succeed?

In some ways, yes. Butcher's writing always carries you along. His characters tend to be likable, his plots are tight and the pacing is strong, and he's very good at building the tension with ever-increasing stakes. He also does a fine job with the "Braveheart moments"; that is, when a character has to stand before a large group of people and deliver an inspiring speech about how this will be our finest hour, or something along those lines. It's very easy to do these sorts of scenes in a cheesy, unconvincing way, but Butcher delivers them handily. And he's always reliable for a good humor moment here and there.

So it's well-constructed fantasy. In terms of the deeper mythic resonance that gave Lord of the Rings the extra level of meaning and power... no. Butcher doesn't really have that arrow in his quiver. It's a fun read, not a book that will change your life. I don't think any author should be ashamed of that, though.

There are a few things that Butcher should be ashamed of, however... or perhaps his editor. The entire Codex Alera series smacks of sloppy editing. There are way too many sentences like: "Her long hair was tied back in a long braid." The repetition is totally understandable in a first draft, but by the final version that sort of stuff should be gone. And it's everywhere in the Alera books.

Butcher also has some writing mannerisms that just get on my nerves. By now, somebody must have mentioned to him that characters "arch an eyebrow" too goddamned much. I want to take Nair to the whole cast. We also get entirely too many wolfish grins, orders of magnitude, and grunts. Repetitive stuff like that happens throughout the book, and Butcher's editor needs to step up to the plate here.

Interestingly, Butcher's tendency for repetition provides a fine object lesson in this writing truism: there are some words that you can only use once, even in the course of a 600-page novel. "Ululating" is great for one use, and after that it sticks out like a sore thumb. "Mellifluous" is another word that's good once. So choose the timing and placement of such words with care, writers, and don't get stuck on them.


And last but not least, I bid farewell to Dick Francis, who just recently passed away. I'm not too big on the mystery genre on the whole. Dick Francis was always an exception. To maintain such a consistent level of quality for so long is an incredible achievement. He was, undeniably, a champion.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Progress Report: 2/8/2010

Rewrite finished! Now I'll get a look at the new chapters from my C&C readers, and Rose & Jade will be ready to go back in front of the agents again.

I'm happy with the rewrite. The opening chapters are more lively and engaging, some of the unnecessary stuff is cut out, and I really like the new prologue. Previously, I was ambivalent about whether the prologue was a good idea or not. Now I'm much happier with its place in the story.

Hey writers out there. Here's something you'll want to see. In the extras on the DVD of Up, they have a segment about the first draft of the opening sequence. They even do an animated version with the storyboard so you can get a rough idea of how the original version would've played out. There are some really funny and clever moments that the writers were very proud of... and it was absolutely the right choice to cut them all out.

If you haven't seen Up, rectify that omission as soon as you can.

If you have, you know that the opening sequence is where we get the full life and relationship between the Carl and Ellie. This sequence is critical. We must fall in love with them in order for the rest of the movie to work. We have to get a full and rich idea of their life in as short a time as possible. And it has to set up the action for the rest of the film.

The original draft version would've dropped the ball. Good as it was, it wasn't good enough. The final version was a masterpiece.

As a writer, what strikes me about the journey from the first draft to the final version is how many "darlings" they had to kill. This is a kind of maxim in editing—"Kill Your Darlings." It means don't be afraid to cut stuff. Even if you've got a brilliant joke or a great character moment, if it doesn't serve the story as a whole, it's got to go.

That's hard to do as a writer. I've done a lot of commentary for other writers, and one of the things that becomes obvious pretty early on is when a writer thinks their own work is too "precious." Instead of listening to critique, they rush to the defense of what they've written. Every sentence is like a baby they have to protect from harm. They never change anything, and it's not worth critiquing them. Not that my commentary is always brilliant or correct—far from it. A writer can be receptive to critique and still decide they don't want to go with a specific suggestion.

And hell, I know how hard it is to make those cuts. It's brutal.

So here's my corollary for "Kill Your Darlings," and it's simple: "Trust Yourself." As in, trust yourself that you can write something even better. Trust yourself that you have it in you to replace whatever you cut with something that works. Once you start trusting yourself, rewriting becomes more fun, I've found.

I've got a lot of darlings to kill off in Thunderstruck. Back to the novelization this week.

Oh, and congrats to the Saints. I get the feeling that Sax and Hayaka were in the audience with their Peyton Manning voodoo doll for that key interception.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Progress Report: 2/2/2010

Beg your pardon about missing yesterday's update. I was sick and not really with it.

Today, I am better, though it was still a struggle to pull myself out of bed. That isn't a sign of illness, however--I'm always like that. Especially in winter. I feel it would be a very short step for me to become a hibernating animal. In fact, that sounds wonderful.

Think of a civilization built by a hibernating species. Let's say bears. Why not? They're smart, very dexterous with their claws. Not too far from prehensile. They even walk upright when they want. So a civilization of bears, with the hibernation instinct firmly in place that puts them to sleep three months out of the year.

And let's gloss over the tropics, since nobody hibernates in the tropics. And the fact that the southern hemisphere bears would be on a different schedule. Right.

Wars would be shorter. If you didn't finish your war before hibernation time, then you'd have to leave it for three months. And you'd wake up too hungry to fight for a while, and by that time you'd have plenty of time to think about it all and decide whether or not it was worth the trouble of all the fighting.

It would be a civilization with a completely different weight consciousness. Nobody would be upset about getting fat, because you have to put on as much weight as possible going into hibernation. An when you wake up, you'd be thin! Diets wouldn't be in the picture. That alone would make the whole thing worth it.

Ecologically speaking, though, there's a big upside. Basically, the earth would get a 3-month break from bear civilization every year. Very healthy for the planet. I think we should implement it now. Sounds civilized, doesn't it?

At least we could make a Discovery Channel or Sci-Fi special about it. We could call it "Hiber-Nation."

Um... anyway. Illness notwithstanding, I got some very good writing done this week, so I'm happy about that. It's getting to be close to that time when I hit the agent pool again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Progress Report: 1/25/2010

So let's see... making progress on the rewrite of the early chapters of Rose & Jade. I think I will have it done this week.

Provided I survive the kitten.

In the time it has taken me to type the above three sentences, there have been two incidents at my desk with young Ezio attempting to do something. Kittens get ideas, you see. Perhaps it would be an exaggeration to characterize them as thoughts, and certainly they are nothing so lofty as plans... ah, incident three just occurred. Yes. As I was saying, they are moments of inspiration, in which the kitten embarks on a sudden and bold experiment about where he can go, how high he can leap, and upon what he can pounce. These ideas come darting out of the ether, invisible as neutrinos and just about as numerous, and connect with the interior of the kitten's skull.

This happens to cats through most of their lives, but as they grow older they at least develop a certain buffer zone between the point at which the idea intersects with their brain and their attempt to fulfill it. There is consideration, a moment of reflection upon the possibility of the notion, during which time the self-preservation instinct has a chance to weigh in on the viability of the whole idea. With kittens, there is none of that. It's straight from inspiration to manifestation, with no pause in between.

It's amazing that any of them survive.

So, writing continues, as does madness. I suppose there is a relation between the two, so perhaps the madness of young Ezio the kitten will somehow spark creative inspiration in me. Assuming, of course, he doesn't destroy the house first.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Progress Report: 1/19/2010

And "Voyage of the Piquant" is done! Go check it out for the final epic battle scene. I had a lot of fun writing it.

Missed the update on Monday, in part because I was taking Martin Luther King day off and didn't really touch my computer, and in part because of distraction. What sort of distraction?

Well, after much searching, we have a new member of the household. He is a 14-week old black kitten with beyond the normal compliment of toes. An energetic and social young fellow, he has demonstrated extraordinary climbing abilities, as well as a knack for using his Power of Smallness to infiltrate places that the adult cats cannot penetrate.

Given the extra claw and his free-climbing and running powers, we have decided that Ezio is a good name. Or Ezio Auditore da Firenze, for completion's sake. He has already provided us with many moments of great entertainment.

I should also mention that we have the best dog in the world. While the other cats have warmed up to Ezio slowly in the traditional roundabout way that is required for cat social politics, our dog Luna has done her very best to make the kitten feel at home. A good example of her strategy is that when Ezio was first trying to sniff her, Luna turned her head away so he could do his initial investigation without being watched, which made him feel safer. She then slowly turned and got some sniffs in between them. Within hours, she was grooming his head and letting him clean her ear. A true diplomat and sweetheart is our Luna.

Okay, so last week I also had the afterburners on for writing at work, and managed to achieve high-density, quality writing for seven days straight. (For those of you who don't know where I work, I am a copy writer for Sounds True). With that week done, my work schedule looks much more sane, an I see a more open avenue for fiction writing in front of me. Back to the Rose & Jade rewrite, I think. Candi gave me a good idea for a revision of the prologue. Now how to implement it...

Voyage of the Piquant [Part Four]

I will make no attempt to capture the horror that we endured those next few days. Perhaps words are inadequate for the job. And if I succeeded, dear reader, if I somehow managed to properly convey some fraction the agony that comes from enduring “Achy Breaky Heart” for the 29th time, hearing a margarita-soaked golfer from New Jersey execute this hellish serenade to the ocean as I sweated and lolled on my bunk… well, I would be doing you no favors.

In my heart, I believe that this is true: if Mocha Rich didn’t exist before, we would have created him through our ill-guided enterprise. He would have coalesced from the outrage of the sea itself just to strike us down for our sins.

Four days and nights passed.

On the morning of the fifth day, with “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love in My Tummy)” vibrating through the hull of the Piquant and my own sanity stretching ever closer to the breaking point, the lookout belted out her call from her high perch. “Oh my God! Thar she… um… thar she inks? Oh, whatever! It’s a big white squid! I see it!”

“Hard starboard!” Aholl roared over the speakers, his coarse voice thundering across the bridge. “Full steam ahead, damn your eyes! Beat to quarters! Battle stations, says I!”

My heart began to pound, but not from fear of Mocha Rich. “Sir, may I give the order to stop the karaoke?”

“Aye, laddie,” Aholl snarled.

Never in my life have I issued a more satisfying command.

The Piquant’s immense hull pounded through the crystal-blue waters. I craned my neck to catch my first look at the monster we’d been hunting, and felt my throat clench. The squid was a boneless colossus, over two hundred feet long, whiter than a bleached linen undershirt. It glided through the waters with alien grace, its mighty tentacles undulating behind it as it swam.

“There you are, you demon!” Aholl exulted. “From Hell’s heart, I throw an uppercut at thee! For hate’s sake, I hork a big old loogie at thee!”

“It’s real,” the captain croaked. “Great God… you fought that thing?”

“As Jacob strove with the angel,” Aholl said. “As Hercules pit himself ‘gainst Cerberus. As Ali took on Smokin’ Joe Fraiser.”

Captain Wellington hurled himself at Aholl, his voice ratcheting up into the soprano as the clutched the madman’s lapels. “You fought that thing and only lost your little finger? Why tempt fate again, you fool?”

“Fate?” Aholl roared, throwing the captain to the floor with a meaty thud. “’Tis my fate to grapple with yon devil-spawn, ye cowardly pudding! Stand not ‘tween me and my fate.”

“We weren’t standing between you and your stupid fate! You dragged us into this, you big… mean…” Wellington floundered, his face purpling as he struggled to find a powerful yet family-safe epithet, “…poop-head!

With the speed of a popping champagne cork, Aholl lashed out and poked Wellington in the eye with his wooden pinkie. The captain let out a pained squeak as the peg struck home, then huddled into a quivering mass on the deck. “Mr. Irving,” Aholl snapped at me, “you know the battle plan.”

“Aye, sir,” I said, my voice strangely calm in m own ears.

“Then thee shall take the place of yon captain, who is no longer fit for duty,” he said. “Step lively, laddie. The demon cometh.”

Like some immense living torpedo, the mammoth squid knifed through the waters in a direct course towards the Piquant. The sea swirled in its wake Mocha Rich propelled itself forward, silently sliding its porcelain-white form through just beneath the waves. As it approached us, the squid rotated its body and a portion of its slick bulk crested the surface. One eye the size of a Volkswagen Beetle rolled towards the ship, surveying us with inhuman intelligence. Though a squid’s expressions are hard to read, I had the distinct impression that Mocha Rich was feeling grumpy.

My fingers tightened into a death grip on my clipboard. My heart thundered in my chest as the fever of battle gripped me. I saw a single vast tentacle rise out of the water and loom over the deck. Mocha Rich was in range for the first assault.

“Shuffleboarders, fire at will!” I commanded.

“Who’s Will?” they responded as one.

“The squid, you morons!” I cried.

“I thought its name was Rich,” they said in perfect unison.

“Then fire at Rich! Just fire!”

The tentacle descended towards us, seawater sluicing off its slick mass in cascading sheets. Three dozen shuffleboard sticks moved in perfect unison, cracking against the plastic surfaces of game pucks that had been sharpened and weighted for battle. The discs whizzed across the deck, up the launch ramps, and pelted into the pale skin of the great boneless appendage.

The tentacle wavered.

I didn’t give the enemy a chance to recover. “Tae-Bo squadron, forward!”

Our aerobics instructor glared at her adversary though tinted contacts. The rage of a thousand prom queens burned in her blood. She slammed down the play button on her boom box, and suddenly the battlefield was alive with up-tempo world grooves. The ex-cheerleader let loose a high-pitched shriek of command, then charged like a spandex-clad Amazon to lead her unit into battle. They danced forward to the beat, raining down bouncy punches and kicks upon the flailing tentacle of the leviathan.

“Two, four, six, eight, go hit that invertebrate!” the instructor exhorted her legion.

“Sir!” cried one of the lookouts. “A second tentacle to the aft!”

I whirled to attend this new challenged. “Bartenders, get ready! Set blenders on frappe and fire!”

The battalion of bartenders oriented their turbo-charged blenders towards the second tentacle and engaged the rotors. In daring defiance of all safety procedures, they lifted off the lids of their mixers. Crystalline shards of ice streaked through the air at fantastic velocities, glittering like diamonds in the autumn sunlight. The squid’s tentacle writhed under their assault.

“Five degrees starboard!” Aholl commanded. “We have him now, the hellspawn!”

The Piquant shifted her ponderous bulk, orienting her bow towards the main body of the giant squid. I commanded the racquetball unit to deal with another tentacle and looked on, blood pounding in my ears. The bullet-shaped mass of the monster’s main body protruded from the sea. Mocha Rich was almost in the firing arc of our main weapon.

“Sandwich crew!” I shouted through my megaphone. “Prepare to release!”

This was our ultimate weapon, the greatest creation in the illustrious career of ship’s cook Quisiene. Baked over the course of days in the Piquant’s mighty ovens, the sandwich was 35-feet of sourdough with a payload of the deadliest toppings. It had a core of glazed Damascus ham to give it weight, fiery peppers to add a lethal sting, a cement-like horseradish sauce to bind it together—and one end filed down to a keen point, revealing a spearhead of cheddar sharp enough to split oak. Through the mysterious alchemy of Quisiene’s baking and glazing, the sandwich had been hardened again and again, until it could repel even the cook’s most vigorous attempts to penetrate its crust with a cleaver.

This was a weapons-grade sandwich. Even Mocha Rich must fall before such a confectionary harpoon.

Fifty pairs of middle-aged hands took hold of the draw rope to the great sandwich, sunscreen-slathered backs heaving in unison. Quisiene’s deadly creation had been mounted like some giant crossbow bolt straddling the bow, set to a giant elastic string crossing the Aloha Deck. Every swimsuit on the ship had sacrificed its waistband to make this mighty weapon, each industrial-strength length of elastic woven together into a single unbreakable cord.

“Steady...” My voice rang strong and confident. “Steady...”

The band creaked as it drew tighter. The guardrails to which it had been attached groaned in protest, metal threatening to buckle under the stress. The bow of the ship swung slowly around, orienting closer and closer to the dead center mark on the body of the beast.

“Steady... release!”

The hands let go. The elastic thrummed like a chord played on King Kong’s banjo. The sandwich rocketed towards the squid, flakes of shredded iceberg lettuce trailing like a comet tail in its wake, hurtling directly towards its mark between Mocha Rich’s two monstrous eyes.

A tentacle shot out of the water like a bolt of slippery white lightning, whipping around the sandwich in mid-flight. The great invertebrate caught the deadly missile, killing its momentum moments before it would have punctured its pale carapace.

The moisture drained completely out of my mouth. “Oops.”

From his position in the corner of the bridge, Captain Wellington let out a tinkling giggle. “Quite the reflexes on that squid, wouldn’t you say?”

Aholl gnashed his teeth fitfully.

The monstrosity held the vast submarine sandwich in its tentacle, seeming to consider it for a long moment, then plunged the end of the weapon into its gaping beak. The hellish maw of the monster closed. A sound like a falling sequoia thundered across the waves as Mocha Rich devoured our mighty weapon, right down to the last crumb.

When Mocha Rich was done, its unspeakable eye focused on us once again. I could tell that this squid wasn’t merely grumpy anymore. We’d really managed to piss it off.

“Damn your rubbery hide! I’ll end thee myself!” Aholl bellowed, and took off like a cannonball. He hurtled down stairs and across the deck, disregarded the “no-running” safety signs with a madman’s obsession, brandishing his harpoon gun as he bolted towards his hated nemesis.

I wondered if his hand-held weapon could possibly kill such a vast creature, even if he shot it in some vital spot, but I never got the chance to find out. Mocha Rich’s body dropped below the waves before Aholl reached the guard rail, disappearing into the brine with an eerie smoothness that barely disturbed the waves.

“Now what?” muttered the captain. “Is it gone?”

“No,” I said.

“Maybe it’s full now and wants to go have a nap,” Wellington suggested. “How do you know it’s still here?”

“Because we’re still here.”

Suddenly, the waters around the ship burst into churning froth. What followed was a sound that I cannot begin to describe, a boggling series of rapid-fire, gooey thumps as thick mollusk flesh collided with steel. Mocha Rich fastened its unthinkable tentacles onto the hull of the Piquant, bonding itself to our vessel with countless jacuzzi-sized suction cups.

The captain began to emit a noise like a trapped mouse. The ordered ranks of the passengers who had been pressed into squid-hunting combat service began to dissolve as panic spread its tendrils through the crew.

“What’s it doing?” whimpered Wellington. “Does it mean to drag us down?”

I didn’t think it was possible, even for the monster squid. The Piquant still outweighed Mocha Rich by thousands of tons. I thought perhaps the beast intended to peel the hull off like the skin of a banana, yet in that guess I was mistaken as the captain.

A second sound arose in the ship, a noise even stranger than Mocha Rich affixing itself to our hull. It was a slimy, rushing noise, quiet at first, growing louder with each second, seeming to come from every direction.

“Aholl!” I cried through my megaphone. “What’s happening?”

Old Aholl needed nothing but his own hate to amplify his voice. He called back to me across the stretch of the Piquant’s deck, his harpoon gun raised in his maimed hand. I could see the whites of his bulging eyes from fifty yards away as he bellowed the last words I would ever hear him speak.

“Revenge, my lad! I told you that your kind’s outrages against the sea would bring down the wrath of yon devil, did I not? Now see the foul color of Mocha Rich’s vengeance, good Mr. Irving!”

Metal screeched behind me, and I whirled. One of the pipes had split at the seam, emitting a jet of the most disgusting liquid I have ever seen. Part seawater, part human waste, and part black cephalopod ink, it gushed out under fantastic pressure and spattered polished planks of the deck.

“Oh my God,” I choked, pressing my handkerchief against my face against the reek. Horrible comprehension dawned as I realized what Mocha Rich was doing.

The squid had somehow sensed the location of the disposal valve on the underside of the Piquant. It is from this port that a cruise ship expels her waste into the sea—grey water from all the ship’s showers, the used cleaning fluid of a battalion of maids, and most of all, the excretions of thousands of over-eating vacationers. Our holding tanks were almost full right now; we were overdue for a dump, too occupied with our preparations for battle to attend to that key element of the normal routine.

A squid propels itself through the water with living hydraulic jets. Now Mocha Rich was using those jets to pump thousands of gallons of seawater and its own inky emissions up through the disposal valve and into the ship’s plumbing.

Across every deck, I heard the toilets exploding. I knew the Piquant was doomed.

“Abandon ship!” I commanded over the PA. “All hands to the lifeboats! Abandon ship!”

All semblance of order disintegrated. I can barely remember the minutes that followed, the mayhem as the passengers stampeded towards the lifeboats while Mocha Rich continued its devastating liquid siege upon the Piquant. I remember the planks of the deck warping as swirling dark puddles spread from between the decks. I remember ducking as rivets blew off the pipes and whirred through the air like demented hummingbirds. The great cruise ship heaved and groaned as unspeakable fluids filled her living quarters, her massage parlors, her engine room, the weight dragging her down into the merciless embrace of the waves.

The last thing I recall on the ship was the screech of tearing metal to one side, then a massive column of the loathsome ink-and-sewage seawater colliding with my body like a battering ram, carrying me over the safety rail. As my body plunged into the chilling waters of the north Pacific, darkness began to claim me.

Moments before consciousness left me entirely, I felt my arm brush against something warm and savory.

It was Quisiene’s funeral cake, of course. As buoyant as it was delectable, the great confection bore my unconscious body on the ocean, its oven-fresh goodness warming me against the life-sapping cold of the sea. When the Coast Guard pulled me out, much of the cake had been nibbled away by gulls and fish. Nobody had any complaints of Quisiene’s final dessert, least of all me.

I remember none of that, however. I awoke in the hospital with what passengers and crew of the ill-fated Piquant made it to the lifeboats ahead of Mocha Rich’s terrible vengeance. I found myself caught up in a maelstrom of doctors, reporters, and scientists, all asking questions that nobody could hope to answer.

Captain Wellington took most of the blame for the incident, though the cruise company and the designers of the Piquant found themselves deluged with subpoenas and summons in the months to come. Politicians and Archbishops took the opportunity to denounce all sorts of things which they had already been denouncing for years. Engineers and scientists offered explanations of how the cruise ship’s internal plumbing could have gone out of control. But nobody credited the story of Mocha Rich.

In spite of all the cameras which had been aboard the Piquant, not a single clear image of the squid survived the devastation. The salvagers managed to recover a few blurry pictures here and there, generally with somebody’s thumb obscuring half the view, but there was nothing that showed enough to convince the skeptics. It made me wonder if Mocha Rich wasn’t more than just a bloody huge invertebrate, but if he was some unimaginably powerful and camera-shy embodiment of nature’s wrath.

The only man who might have been able to answer that question had disappeared. Aholl wasn’t found amongst the survivors. Some part of me believes that he survived, and that he still roams the seas seeking retribution for his lost pinkie, locked in a never-ending mortal struggle with the unfathomable creature that he called Mocha Rich.

As for me... I’m moving to Montana. I’ve had my fill of the sea.