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Feb. 23rd, 2009

[writing] Gearing up for the second lap

The "discovery draft"--which I'm calling the White Draft because of all the white noise in the storyline (and because it sounds cool)--yielded a number of issues that I wrote about a couple of days ago here.  Today I'm starting the new outline and synopsis.  Probably the biggest change from the White Draft is the shift to first person viewpoint.  I think this is critical as a way of getting closer to the world and really seeing it through the eyes of the protagonist.  To be sure, third person close could work too, but for this I'm trying to channel Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, and Raymond Chandler's Marlowe books.  In all of these the distinctive character voice and commentary open a clear window on the respective worlds, punching up the "eyewitness" aspect to the story.

Plus, I'm comfortable writing in first person.  The commentary in particular offers certain advantages in hitting the tone I'm looking for.  At this point, my instincts want the rewrite to assume a close-in camera view.  So done and done.

I suspect the bulk of my prep time this week will be spent clarifying my plot structure and making sure I don't leave any loose ends, as I did in the discovery draft.  One of the big needs-improvement points in the White Draft is that the unique characteristics of the world played zero role in the story other than as scenery.  In other words, this story could have played out as it was in any generic dystopian or even space opera future.  That needs to be fixed, and I think doing so should be pretty easy.  This world features a huge amount of environmental flux, which makes a classic source of opposition or complication for characters.

One thing I was pretty happy with in the end phase of the White Draft was when I beat up my main character.  Even superhuman protags find the going tough after a couple of serious gunshot wounds.  One of the challenges in this novel has been to find ways to hamper the mutant characters.  In the course of the White Draft, I came up with a lot of ways to do so, but implemented them in a more haphazard fashion than I'd like.  In the rewrite, I want to communicate a clearer sense of the hero's limits to the reader.

Feb. 22nd, 2009

[politics] Fer Chrissakes

According to Glenn Greenwald, Fox is broadcasting a show with retired military and CIA guys wargaming the uprise of militias to overthrow the tyrannical Obama regime.  I mean, come on.  As Greenwald concludes:

"I wonder what would happen if MSNBC broadcast a similar discussion of leftists plotting and planning the imminent, violent Socialist Revolution against the U.S. Government."

The same Fox guys and their audiences would be crapping themselves with outrage.  Free speech means they have the right to express their views.  It's the hypocrisy this kind of show puts on display that's most disturbing.  Anyone remember the militia movement of the 90's?  And how it seemed to vanish overnight once Bush took office?

Feb. 20th, 2009

[writing] Thoughts on novel writing

So I've been out of journal circulation for awhile, working on the draft of a tie-in novel for Blueshift, a videogame in production at Seed Studio out in Taipei.  I'm happy to say I just finished it at 97,800 words.

This project has been a considerable challenge for me, as I'd only written a couple of novel drafts previously.  Those were good efforts, but compared to this one, they were much, much simpler.  Writing for someone else for real...is different.  I'd really struggled, fell far behind my schedule, and finally pulled off a decent first draft with a final push of some 30,000 words in about a week.  I'd concluded as I hit the last 25% of the book, that I had taken a wrong turn on structure back in the first 20% and that my struggles were in part due to a lack of awareness of novel meta-structure (e.g., mid-point, set-pieces, etc.).  Put another way, my outline was plot heavy in terms of sequence of events, but the finished work feels (to me) sort of slammed together.  It's a great world, a fun property, but I just wrote what amounts to a discovery draft.

I learned a hell of a lot in the process.  For instance, I can reliably produce about 4,000 good words in a day, but going over that amount risks a sharp decline in quality.  My last day I laid down 8,500 words of new text, and to my great luck, there's some good stuff in there.  Scaling back to a rough target of 3k per day seems more reasonable.  Also, I discovered that 90,000 words sounds like a lot, but when you split that among four major viewpoint characters, it's less than you might think.  The story seems to need to be a lot tighter with more viewpoints.  At this time, I don't have the skill to juggle all of them.

Now comes the rewrite.  I think it's going to be almost a complete retake, collapsing to one POV, maybe even going to first person.  I'll see what I can salvage from the first draft, but there's a lot of structure and loose ends to tie up.  I need to pay a lot more attention on this draft to a clear outline, but not one that locks me in too far.  My first outline went chapter by chapter, and I veered off the rails at about 20k words in and never really made it back.  The crafting process has to be a lot more intentional about structure.

On the other hand, I hit my groove (finally) in the last week, and am looking forward to a much swifter and more confident rewrite.  Jay Lake once told me the way to learn how to write a novel is:  "Write a novel.  Put it aside.  Write another one.  Put it aside.  Now write a third one.  By this time, you'll start to know what you're doing."  If I call the first two novels I've drafted "novels" (which would be a generous interpretation, honestly), then maybe I'm starting to know what I'm doing.  I hope so, because reading other novels lately, I've been struck by this wave of "WTF?  I can never produce something this cool."  Richard Morgan, I'm looking at you.

By the time I got done with my draft, I was able to look at the same novels and think, "Yeah, OK.  I'm on my way."  Cool stuff.

Nov. 17th, 2008

[environment] The long kiss goodbye?

Well, this is depressing.

And in counterpoint, an article in the U. of Oregon student newspaper offers a slew of right-wing talking points slamming the notion that climate change could be man-made.

Nov. 4th, 2008

[politics] High noon

Today's the day.  As I drove the kidlets to school and pre-school this morning, I let them know people were voting in the new president today.  Senior moppet replied, "Wow" in a hushed voice.

I should confess that after my angry note to Senator Obama about his FISA vote, I had a change of heart.  Two words: Sarah Palin.

I was always going to vote for Obama.  Would drag myself over broken glass to vote Democratic this year.  That hadn't changed, but I started contributing directly to his campaign again instead of to various third-party groups after McCain chose Palin.  Why?

Short answer: Palin is an ignorant wingnut.

Longer version:  Palin is a culture warrior in the lowest Rovian sense, one who peddles hate and intolerance and division.  She's an authoritarian religious zealot, a hypocrite who inveighs against behavior she freely indulges in (earmarks, state subsidizing of her living at home, family travel on the taxpayer's tab).  She is willing to use her office to settle personal scores.  She is more concerned about subordinates' personal loyalty to her than about their competence and merit.  She's a liar who can't string a coherent sentence together on the fly.  She carries herself with a hearty ignorance about policy and our Constitution along with a general lack of intellectual curiosity that masquerades as folksiness.  She is wholly unqualified to serve as President.  Her views echo those of an extremist margin of American citizens.

The fact that McCain chose her speaks to his own judgment in the worst possible way.  In June, he told an interviewer that the most important quality of a vice-president is for that person to be able to step up and assume the presidency.  By choosing Palin, he shot his argument against Obama's experience right through the braincase.

There are a a lot of other reasons to reject McCain at the voting booth this year, and a lot of great reasons to vote for Obama and Biden.  But if you were to condense the decision to a single point of data as a tipping point, Palin would be it.

I'm off to do phonebanking for Obama.  VOTE!

Oct. 10th, 2008

[politics] Household help


Enough said.


Oct. 5th, 2008

[writing] Clockwork Jungle sale

Shimmer notified me they're buying my story "The Jackdaw's Wife" for their upcoming Clockwork Jungle issue, out early next year.  Steampunk fable, anyone?

Shimmer is a fantastic magazine.  I'd picked up some of the back issues at World Fantasy last year.  I'm psyched to be a part of it.

Sep. 12th, 2008

[politics] 76 Flip-flops in McCain's parade....

Check this for a little Friday night reading to ease you into your weekend with a chuckle.  Once you're there, scroll down to find The Beeg List of McSame's flip-flops.


Jul. 10th, 2008

[politics] The day after

Dear Senator Obama,

I am deeply, deeply disappointed in your caving to the Bush administration on the FISA bill, thereby permitting years of lawlessness to go without consequence to the lawbreakers and putting a seal of endorsement on warrantless surveillance by the president that eclipses in scale and time any of the similar trespasses committed by the Nixon administration.  Instead of using your position and pulpit to protect the 4th Amendment and defend the rule of law, Senator Obama, you turned out to be all talk, no action.

Unlike Senator Clinton, ironically enough.  She voted against passing the president's FISA bill.

Rather than a mere policy disagreement, I believe this vote and this issue go to fundamental principles of governance and accountability in a democracy.  Further, and just as troubling, your about-face on this position from what you had articulated during the primary campaign is equally discouraging, as it indicates that this candidate is willing to sacrifice core principles when convenient.  There's always a fine line of reason that accompanies any compromise, and I understand that compromise is frequently how one gets things done in a democratic society.  But there should be limits to what one is willing to give up.  One hopes, for example, that you would not vote for a bill authorizing torture, a policy unfortunately too far from the fantastic under our current president.

I no longer feel certain of you, of who you are and what you really stand for.  By tacking so aggressively to the center, you are once again--in the tradition of prior Democratic candidates, moving away from any real promise of change.  Contrast the tone of today's post with where I was a little over a month ago.

As a result of your vote on FISA, my enthusiasm for you and your promise of change has been badly tarnished.  The only course I feel I can take at this point to emphasize my concern is this: I will no longer contribute to the Obama campaign, but will focus my energies and financial wherewithal toward electing other progressive candidates.  I voted for you in May, but if the Oregon primary were happening today, I would  cast my vote for Senator Clinton instead.

You remain a far, far better candidate than John McCain, but significantly less so than before your FISA vote.  Once again, it appears we are held hostage to vote for the lesser evil, and that is a bitter thing to taste...again.


Blake Hutchins

Jun. 23rd, 2008

[politics] Free market (a)morality

I've been feeling a rant coming on in light of Republicans yammering about the purity and virtues of the free market.  Honestly, they come to the defense of the market faster than they do democracy.  Not really surprising, given their classist, hierarchical set of values, but let me not digress.

Let's get this out of the way: the "free" market is generally a very efficient means of distributing goods and services between fluctuating levels of supply and demand, an automatic mechanism mediating an extraordinarily complex system of varying inputs, actions, and reactions.  It is not, however, "moral."  Put another way, it is outcome-neutral so long as profit is being made somewhere.  Another word for it is "amoral."

It may be true that some form of free market is a necessary precondition for a functioning democracy.  The alternative--a centralized market--would require a level of government control over citizens that would be antithetical to a democratic society.  However, that condition, even if true, does not in itself make the free market "moral."  The political equivalent of the free market may well be anarchy.  Or perhaps communisim in the utopian form envisioned by Marx.

By itself, the unregulated free market supported (and still produces) centuries of slavery, genocide, child labor, pornography, child pornography, contaminated food, contaminated water, contaminated air, etc.  To be sure, the feudal economy brought us those as well.  But capitalism hasn't changed them.  What changed them was government action, government regulation, government leadership.  Democratic governments, for the most part.


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