Archive for September, 2015

FF: Amusing and New

September 4, 2015

Between Bubonicon and getting ready for the National Book Festival this weekend, my reading time was severely truncated.  As far as I am concerned, the only good thing about the fact that I’m going to spend a couple of days on airplanes and stuck in airports is that I’ll have lots of time to read.

Finding Time to Read Was a Balancing Act

Finding Time to Read Was a Balancing Act

For those of you new to this post…  The Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book length collection) or magazine articles.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of descriptions or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.  Tommy, a sixth grader, tries to figure out the secret of Origami Yoda.  Written journal style, which I am a sucker for when it’s done well…  I decided to try this because I may meet Mr. Angleberger next week since we’re both guests of the National Book Festival.  See below…

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger.  I seem to have missed one in the middle, but Mr. Angleberger provides enough transition that I easily picked up with this one.  Dwight is mostly off-stage in this one.  The “Secret” proves amusing.

In Progress:

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani.  Audiobook.  So far no surprises.  Good descriptions.

The Books of Great Alta by Jane Yolen (aka a compilation volume of her Sister Light, Sister Dark and White Jenna.  Just started.

Also:

Did I mention that the only good thing about two days spent travelling is that I get to read?

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TT: Artemis Examined

September 3, 2015

JANE: I’ve spent the last week being alternately nervous and excited while I anticipated/dreaded what you’d want to say about my “Artemis Awakening” books.  Let’s go for it!

The "Artemis Awakening" suite

The “Artemis Awakening” suite

ALAN: The first thing that struck me about Artemis was just how well the history of the place was integrated into the story. The characters on the page are well aware that they are living at the end of a long span of time during which many complex things have happened, things that have shaped their own culture. We catch glimpses of this history as it pertains to the story that is being told, but there is obviously a lot more that we are not being told.

So how much work did you put into the backstory before you first set pen to paper?

JANE: I put in a fair amount of work, but less on a reasoned out “backstory” than on what sort of culture would have created Artemis and her inhabitants.  So I don’t have an equivalent to the “Annals of Kings and Rulers” or whatever it was Tolkien put together, but I do have a very strong sense of the seegnur culture, both as it was at its prime and as it began to break down.

The “whys” tend to fascinate me more than the nuts and bolt “hows,” and nuts and bolts interest me very little as such, which is why I took the seegnur’s technological developments in the direction I did – with technology tied to psionics, rather than circuit boards.

ALAN: And along the way you came up with some quite novel concepts – I’m thinking here of Adara’s relationship with the puma Sand Shadow. There’s a two-way psionic bond, but there’s also a physical aspect to it. Both Adara and Sand Shadow have been genetically modified. Adara has “claws” and Sand Shadow has “hands.”

JANE: Adara has “cat’s eyes,” too…   I thought the book cover for Artemis Invaded did those very well.

I’m not sure the concepts are “novel,” but certainly in the majority of print SF I’ve read, if they are used, they are presented as “negative mutations” or results from attempts to create super soldiers or something.

I want to stress print because humans with animal traits are more common in illustrated SF – and not only in the stuff for “kids,” either.  The current graphic novel hit Saga does some brilliant work with blending human and animal characteristics.

Have you seen it?

ALAN: No, I haven’t – I don’t really understand graphic novels. Pictures don’t do anything very much for me and I have problems with the continuity between panels as well. So because I can’t read them, I don’t read them, if that isn’t an oxymoron…

JANE: Actually, that makes perfect sense.  Going back to blending of human/animal traits in characters…

I guess I’m weird, but I’ve always thought such adaptations would be wonderful and exciting, so I decided that the seegnur who created Artemis would, too.

One thing I’d like to stress…  The “demiurge” relationship goes both ways.  This isn’t a “wizard and familiar” thing.

Sand Shadow is Adara’s demiurge, but Adara is Sand Shadow’s demiurge as well.  In Artemis Invaded, they both are coming to terms with the fact that their relationship with the planet may be a variation on the demiurge relationship between humans and animals.  Since there are indications that the relationship has physical, as well as mental, ramifications, this could be very interesting indeed.

ALAN: Oh indeed – that comes across very clearly.

JANE: Going back to the first part of your comment – that Adara and Sand Shadow have a psionic bond (as do Bruin and Honeychild, for that matter)…

Communication in general fascinates me.  I mean, you and I started these Tangents because we found it interesting how we both spoke English but often couldn’t understand each other!  Just the other day, you asked me to explain what “dog kibble” was…

ALAN: “Two nations separated by a common language” as somebody once said. And kibble is such a very weird word…

JANE: Anyhow, since in the Firekeeper novels, I’d already “done” human/animal communication based around the idea that animals have language of sorts that humans can learn to speak, I wanted to do something different with the communication between humans and animals on Artemis.  Since I already planned to use psionics, that was the natural route to take.

However, I also try to make clear that this isn’t an instant “fix.”  Adara and Sand Shadow are still working on building their own image-based language – one that bridges the differences in their sensory apparatus, life-experiences, and such.

ALAN: And you also explore that same idea from the other side, as it were, when you show us the gradually evolving communication that Adara and Sand Shadow have with Artemis herself.

Indeed, the whole structure of the story depends on (not always successful) communications of one sort and another. For example, vital plot points depend on decoding Ring’s often incoherent sentences, which are caused by the confusion of the ever-shifting probabilities that he sees as all the futures shift around him.

Was this thematic choice a conscious decision or did it just arise by itself from the narrative structure?

JANE: It rose from the narrative structure… I rarely impose a structure on a story.  I let the story make up its own mind.  By the way, I love Ring!  I’m so glad you mentioned him.  My own Oracle of Delphi.

ALAN: Yes, he did seem somewhat oracular! In fact, you refer to a lot of Greek myths in the books, particularly with the naming of names. We’ve already met Artemis and Leto (and I kept looking for Artemis’ brother Apollo, but I haven’t found him yet). And Castor and Pollux appear as well, of course. Why did you do this?

JANE: I wish we were doing this in person on a panel, because if we were, you could see I’m bouncing up and down on my chair…

I really wanted to call the planet Artemis, but I had to wonder…  Would the Greek myths survive that far into the future?  I mean, back when I was teaching college, most of my students didn’t know who Apollo was, much less Artemis or Leto.

(Small aside: I bet Rick Riordan’s popular mythology-based novels will help mend that gap for the current generation!)

So I considered and decided that in some contexts the Greek mythological figures would indeed be remembered – and one of the reasons would be because planets and other astronomical features keep getting named for them.  This, in turn, would mean that variations of the myths would be included in Wikipedia and its descendants into the future.

Castor and Pollux are named more for the constellation than for the warriors of myth.

Griffin is named for a “historical” figure, not for the winged eagle/lion hybrid monster.

Such little touches of world-building actually get me very jazzed.

ALAN: And that’s why it feels so real. The devil is in the details and you’ve obviously put a lot of thought into those details; right down to the individual words themselves. Where did “seegnur” come from?

JANE: “Seegnur” comes from the Latin “seniorem,” which is the root for the English “senior.”  It’s the root for the Italian “signore” and the French “seigneur,” both of which originally meant “lord.”  It also survives in the French “monsieur,” and Church title “monsignor,” both of which basically mean “my lord.”

Why is this important?  I wanted to use a word that wasn’t English but that would have “echoes” to the ear of an English speaker.

It’s pronounced “seeg-nur.”

ALAN: And by putting all these things together, you really have managed to create that sense of wonder that is so important to a well-told science fiction story.

So we come full circle. When we first started talking about this topic, I never realised that we’d have so much to say about it. Amazing, eh?

JANE: Uh…  Can I get away with saying “wonder”-ful?

ALAN: Of course you can. But only once…

The Cost — Part Two

September 2, 2015

Bubonicon was lots of fun this past weekend.  I’m still defragging from being around so many people.  And on Friday I leave for the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.  I’m sure it will be fun…  At least once the travel part is over!  Anyhow…

Tortallians and Tamora Pierce

Tortallians and Tamora Pierce

A few weeks ago, I asked Wanderings readers to suggest topics they’d like me to talk about.  (Hint!  I’m still open to questions.  I really like writing about topics I know you’re interested in hearing about.)

Louis asked a very complicated question.  Last week I set out to answer part of it.  This week I’m continuing on.

If you haven’t read my previous post on this topic, you might want to take a look at “The Cost: Part One.”

I’m going to repeat Louis’ question in full, because the context is important: “Well, my immediate reaction was to wonder how much we’d have to raise on Kickstarter to  pay you to write the 4th Breaking the Wall [hmmm… should I maybe be taking that series title literally, or at least more so than I have so far?] book. And no, you don’t need to answer that, or even think about the answer. But it did lead me to something that might be answerable: what does it cost you to produce a new book – in terms of time, of resources, of blood, sweat, toil and tears? And how do you judge that you’ve been fairly recompensed for your labour?”

Last week I talked about the time it would take to write such a book, and also touched on the question of length.  Now to talk about the actual writing and some of what happens once a manuscript is complete.

Ever since writing became my full-time job, I treat it like one.  That includes allowing myself weekends and evenings off.  If this sounds overly liberal, please remind yourself that I don’t get any paid vacation or holidays.  Also, I often end up working on weekends, whether responding to e-mails and keeping an eye on social media, participating in book events, or doing research.

And I’m usually at my desk by 8:00 in the morning, often by 6:30, so while I may be self-employed, I don’t think I qualify as a slacker.

My writing “pulse points” vary depending on where I am in a book.  I’m slower at the start, faster toward the end.  An interruption in composition (for example to deal with another project) will slow me down until I get back into the writing.  Basically, I’m neither slow nor fast, but I am steady.  What I write in my first draft tends to be of good, but not perfect, quality.

I’ve talked a lot about various aspects of how I write in these Wanderings.  You can look at the other posts to get a feel for how I go about things (see the “Writing” category).  Or, for a slightly more organized and focused look at the topic, I recommend my recent book Wanderings on Writing.

So, let’s assume I’ve spent a good chunk of the previous year immersed in writing a 150,000 word novel.  As I said, what I write in that first draft tends to be of good, but not perfect, quality.  I am, however, a perfectionist, so my next job is going through the manuscript, looking for where I put notes to myself (I mark these with square brackets, because that makes for a fast search), and addressing any questions or incomplete material.  In the process of doing this, I usually re-read the manuscript off the screen, tightening as I go.  As I said earlier, despite the length of my books, I don’t write “fat.”

When that on-screen read-through is complete, I print a copy of the manuscript and settle in to read it all over again, this time with a red pencil in hand.  Again, my goal is to make the novel as tight, clear, and vivid as possible.

How long does this take?  Weeks for each read-through.  The amount of time needed for that first “off the screen” read will vary, depending on how many bracketed comments I need to address and how complex the questions I’ve asked myself are.  The second read-through is deliberately slow, because my goal is to read carefully and I’m fighting an urge to rush.  After this, it’s data entry time as I make numerous small changes.

Only when I’ve gone through the manuscript at least twice and made it as perfect as I can, does patient Jim get to see what has been obsessing me for the better part of the last year.  He reads through with pencil in hand.  Based on the number of typos, missed words, and suchlike he catches, he provides evidence for the frequent assertion that authors cannot proof themselves because they know what they wrote, rather than seeing what was actually written.

How long does Jim’s read-through take?  This depends on his schedule, but I usually try to allow at least a month in my time allocation toward making a deadline because he has a full-time job and is reading during his commute or maybe a bit on the weekends.  Oh…  I consider his erratic reading schedule an advantage.  That’s just how most “real” readers read a book, at scattered moments, not in a sitting or two (as do many editors).  If Jim says, “I’d forgotten that…” or something similar, and I hadn’t intended for that element to be overlooked until the proper moment, I know I have work to do.

Then, after Jim is finished, I’m back to data entry, making his suggested corrections or, occasionally, making a note of a comment that I don’t agree with but that I want to remember in case I hear it from another reader.  Sometimes, at this point, either a friend will offer to read the manuscript and offer comments, or (maybe because of something Jim brought up) I’ll solicit more feedback.

These numerous read-throughs are just the beginning of what I might term the blood, sweat, toil, and tears phase of a book.  However, even at the times when I rely on a traditional publisher, they are far from the last.

I’ve written elsewhere about the value of a professional editor, so I won’t go into that again except to say that if I were to self-publish a novel, I’d want to do my best to find someone to do that job.  This doesn’t come cheap, not if you want someone who is good.  If I was trying to get a novel in a series edited, I’d need to find someone who was either familiar with the original books or was willing to read the previous books…

So a professional editor is a “cost” element, too.

Oh…  And a professional editor is also a “time” element.  This goes back to my comment in the prior essay about “handing in to my editor.”  More often than not, a writer meets his or her deadline, then settles in to chew his or her nails while waiting for a response.  After all, unless you’re very lucky or a bestie-bestseller, you are not your editor’s only concern.  I’ve had slow editors and fast editors.  Speed had absolutely nothing to do with quality.  Some slow ones sucked.  Some fast ones were brilliant.   And vice versa.

If you’re going to work with a professional editor, in addition to budgeting money to pay the bill, you’d better budget time.  If the book is coming out “whenever,” that’s okay, but if you’ve promised those folks on Kickstarter you’ll have it out by Christmas or you want to catch the summer “beach book” crowd or whatever, then this can be acid stomach time if you didn’t budget for a delay at this point.

Even if I was willing to do without a professional editor, which I just maybe might be willing to do for a novel in a series, since I’m likely to be more familiar with the foundation material than anyone I could hire, I wouldn’t do without a copyeditor.

What’s a copyeditor?  A copyeditor is someone skilled in proofreading a text not only for typos and suchlike, but for inconsistencies (whether of content or spelling and format).  A copyeditor also knows all the rules for punctuation.  Yes.  There are always disagreements regarding as to when a certain piece of punctuation should be used.  However, most publishing houses have a “house” style they use. For many, this is the Chicago Manual of Style.  This will be the default unless the author expresses a strong desire for an alternate.

In these cases, the copyeditor’s job also includes making and maintaining a list of these oddities.  For example, I always spell the color “gray” (to Americans) as “grey.”  This is because my brother is named “Graydon,” usually shortened to “Gray” and so, even as a relatively small child, my brain categorized “gray” as a name and “grey” as a color.

A good copyeditor is worth bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolate (or bottles of whisky and bags of coffee).  A poor copyeditor is a nightmare beyond knowing…  Authors sit around and tell stories about bad copyeditors the way normal people tell ghost stories.  Really!

If you want to know more about copyediting, I highly recommend Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s excellent essay, “On Copyediting.”  You can find it in her collection Making Book.  In addition to talking about copyediting in a general sense, she includes a bunch of material specific to SF/F, which cannot be praised enough as a means toward avoiding dumb mistakes.

Since my punctuation can become, uh, idiosyncratic, especially when I’m typing fast, and because (as noted above) a writer really cannot proof herself, I would need a professional quality copy editor.  These do not come cheap.  And they do not work fast, so here’s another investment in both money and time.

And the “expenses” involved in producing a book don’t end here, especially if you’re self-publishing…  However, I’ll save the next phase for next week!