Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


Final Work-In-Progress Report + Various

August 22nd, 2016

Work-In-Progress Report
I haven’t been posting much lately, have I? That’s because I’ve mostly been writing, with time off for workouts — but even the workouts stopped a few days ago as other chores intruded.

Anyway, as noted in the title, this is my last work-in-progress report for the new novel, because that novel is officially “done.”

Of course, in this business there are many phases of “done,” and there will certainly be more revisions to come, but it’s now with my agent, so that’s a draft!

John W. Campbell Memorial Award
The Hugo Awards, given out at Worldcon this past weekend, were casting shade, but the winner of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award was also announced during the convention — and no, it wasn’t me. The award went to Eleanor Lerman for her novel Radiomen. Congratulations to Eleanor! As it turns out, Going Dark was tied for second place alongside Adam Roberts’ The Thing Itself.

Follow this link for details.

Recommended Audiobook
Malka Older’s Infomocracy is a near-future look at politics and the way a global system of “micro-democracies” might work — and of course how people, being people, will attempt to game the system. The story takes place during a world-wide election, held every ten years, in which “centinels” — geographic divisions of a hundred-thousand people — are each choosing new leadership, and there is a lot of competition among the various political groups to pick up these new centinels.

The world building behind Infomocracy is absolutely brilliant and at times some of the observations made in the story are quite funny — but be aware that there is a lot of detail as the characters discuss statistics, voting, and political platforms. Think of Infomocracy as a bureaucrat’s thriller. I won’t be at all surprised to see it on next year’s Campbell Memorial list.

The audio narration is by Christine Marshal and I thought it was very well done.

Book Rave: Red Rising

August 12th, 2016

Red Rising by Pierce BrownI don’t remember hearing much about Pierce Brown’s novel Red Rising within the SFF genre, but it’s been a hugely popular book, with 3,200 Amazon reviews averaging 4.5 stars. Even after I finally noticed it, I assumed it was a YA novel, and I’m not particularly interested in YA, so I didn’t pursue it. What finally persuaded me to take a serious look was an enthusiastic recommendation from @alexvdl0 on Twitter. (See? Word of mouth really does work!)

I started reading the sample and was hooked almost immediately. Red Rising is set on Mars, in a highly stratified society. It’s the story of a young man named Darrow, born into the lowest strata. It’s told in his own words, and in some sense it’s a study of how a very skilled writer can employ standard tropes and make them fascinating again.

I was swept away — which doesn’t actually happen all that often anymore.

(Some slight spoilers follow…)

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Work-In-Progress Report

August 6th, 2016

In my last Work-In-Progress Report I said that I’d sent the new novel off to beta readers. I’ve heard back from two so far, and the reports are hearteningly positive, while also including some very useful suggestions.

I’ve already incorporated most of the suggestions from my first beta reader. I’m holding off on the rest to see if the noted issues are a concern with anyone else. That will give me a better idea of how to address them. Later today I’ll start going through the second reader’s suggestions.

I’ve also had a friend read a section of the manuscript for authenticity of place. He made a couple of suggestions, but overall gave it a thumbs-up.

I’m waiting on one more beta reader, as well as that most intimidating personage, my freelance editor, Judith Tarr. I’m sure the feedback won’t be quite so positive from Judy! She’s strict.

It’s all to make the final work the best it can be. For now, I’ll enjoy the praise.

100 Words

August 4th, 2016

A post for writers:

“100 Words” is a game I play when I’m having a hard time getting a new short story started. (In other words, just about every time I’m trying to get a new short story started.) The game is exactly what it sounds like: I make a deal with myself that I only have to be concerned with writing another 100 words.

My story development process begins with an idea, often just a setting, sometimes a situation. Never a character, unless I’m writing about a character I’ve already developed in some other work. No doubt your process is different.

Once I have this starting kernal, I do a lot of brainstorming at the keyboard — nonstop writing in which I ask myself questions about the story and try to answer them. I look for the setting, the situation, the spine of the external plot, the character, the internal plot.

Long ago I read the advice that a short story should be about the most important incident in a character’s life. Clearly this requirement is flexible — a single character can appear in many stories after all — but I think the general concept is good to keep in mind. The incident that takes place in the story needs to profoundly affect your main character. That’s what will make your story emotionally interesting, and provide you with an internal plot, meaning that your character learns, and changes. For better? For worse? Hey, it could go either way.

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Limit of Vision’s New Book Cover

July 25th, 2016

Back in June, I collected your opinions on potential new book cover designs for Limit of Vision, using part of the existing cover art, created by Sarah Adams.

After deciding on a direction, I then sent the project to graphic designer Emily Irwin to “professionalize” the concept. I’m very pleased with the result, which you can see here:

Limit of Vision by Linda Nagata

A new version of the ebook, featuring the new cover, should be available shortly at most ebook vendors. Find links and more information here.

I’m hoping to do a print-on-demand version this fall.

Strange Days

July 24th, 2016

“Nonlinear war” is a concept I used in Going Dark. This weekend seems like the perfect time to revisit Peter Pomerantsev’s 2014 Foreign Policy article discussing the idea. In “How Putin Is Reinventing Warfare” he says:

“…look closer at the Kremlin’s actions during the crisis in Ukraine and you begin to see a very 21st century mentality, manipulating transnational financial interconnections, spinning global media, and reconfiguring geo-political alliances […] This is a world where the old geo-political paradigms no longer hold. As the Kremlin faces down the West, it is indeed gambling that old alliances like the EU and NATO mean less in the 21st century than the new commercial ties it has established with nominally ‘Western’ companies.”

Read it in full here.

“On Proposal” vs “On Spec”

July 24th, 2016

If you’re aiming for the traditional publishing market, there are two basic approaches. You can try to sell your novel “on proposal” or you can try to write it “on spec.”

“On Proposal” is an option that generally is only available to writers with a track record. Either you’ve sold novels before, or you’re an admired short story writer, or your nonfiction credentials carry weight, or maybe you’re a celebrity. What constitutes a proposal can vary widely. I think it’s safe to say that the bigger a writer’s name value, the briefer the proposal. But typically, a proposal involves writing a synopsis of the novel, as well as the first two or three chapters. It’s a running joke among writers that the story told in this initial synopsis will have only a minor resemblance to the story told in the finished novel.

Many, perhaps most, novelists look at selling on proposal as the way it’s done — get your contract first, get an advance on your work, and then write the book. That way, you know you’re not wasting your time writing something that no one will buy. Writing on proposal is smart.

I like writing on spec.

Just one more of my bull-headed quirks. 🙂

Writing “on spec” means you’re embarked on a speculative venture, that you’re investing time and money in writing and completing a novel that is not under contract, so all the risk is yours. Maybe no one will buy it. May it will turn out far better than anyone expected and it will sell quickly and well. Who knows?

For me, the great thing about writing on spec is that all the choices are mine. I can take the novel in whatever direction I want, explore whatever genre I want, and I can set my own deadlines. It’s a risk|freedom equation. And I know that if I don’t get an offer, or if I don’t get one I like, I still own the story and I can publish it myself.

It’s true this means I’ll get no advance on my work, but most advances don’t offer enough money to actually live on, so this doesn’t weigh too heavily. It does, however, make the monthly sales of my backlist books — those older titles that I’ve republished under my own imprint — more important, since that’s what generates my income between the rare checks from publishers.

As always, every writer’s circumstance and path through this industry is different, and there’s no best way.

Work-In-Progress Report

July 23rd, 2016

The new novel has taken far, far longer to write than I ever expected — and that’s the reason I started writing these progress reports. They are a means to keep myself accountable, and a means of encouragement.

I completed a really solid draft of the novel in early July, and in my last report I said that I was going through lists of issues that I knew I needed to address. I’ve taken care of most of those, but there are still a few points that need attention. Most of the remaining items are cultural questions — I want to make sure I’m using names and terms correctly. There are also a few concepts I’d like to expand on.

Last weekend, though, I realized I was running out of time. My goal is to get this manuscript to my agent just after Labor Day, which suddenly felt ominously close, given that the manuscript still needed to go to beta readers and my freelance editor. So I decided it was “done enough.”

This was a radical decision, because I have not done a beginning-to-end read-through of the manuscript yet.

My standard procedure is to read through the entire manuscript on-screen, and then read it again in printed version, before I consider it ready to be seen by others. So maybe I’m starting to lighten up after all these years?

Anyway, on Thursday night I sent the manuscript off to three beta readers, and next week it will go back to my freelance editor, who saw the partial last spring. It’ll probably be two to three weeks before I hear back, so it’s much too soon to get nervous. 😉

My original plan was to keep working on the novel in the interim, but I’ve promised a couple of short stories, so I may tackle at least one of those instead. A break from the novel might be the best thing, before the mad rush to address the critiques I’ll be receiving.

In the meantime, we’re expecting Tropical Storm Darby to blow through Maui today and tonight. The rain started before 7AM this morning, which surprised me. I hope we don’t lose electricity!

Where I Stand

July 22nd, 2016

Several years ago I made the decision to avoid the subject of politics in my social media, in large part for reasons of self protection. For me, political discussion consumes emotional energy, and I continue to be distracted by the conversation long after it ends. I need to direct that emotional energy into my books instead, and besides, those books are full of politics.

So I’ve had very little to say publicly about this presidential campaign. After this past week, though, and all that has happened at the Republican National Convention, I am frightened for my country, and at this point I feel I have a moral obligation to say where I stand. I can’t imagine that anyone who’s read my books would think otherwise, but for the record, I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.

Is Hillary Clinton my ideal candidate? No, although I think she rates highly and I won’t have any qualms when I mark my ballot. As a general principle, I don’t approve of dynastic political families. Political dynasties are too close to the old aristocracies that this country fought a war of independence to be rid of. That said, Hillary Clinton is well-educated, smart, experienced, and rational. I don’t doubt that she has the best interests of America in mind, and that she’ll make a fully competent president.

Regarding her opponent, I freely admit that I have never liked or admired him (quite the opposite). I’m not going to go over all the objectionable things that were said and done at the Cleveland convention. You can find those all over the Internet, or go check out this essay at War is Boring: Doomsaying Speech Was Both Enormous and Empty.

For the life-long Republicans out there, I just want to say that a political party is not a football team. Unlike a football team, there’s no virtue in supporting a political party through thick and thin. A political party exists to represent your views. You do not exist to serve and support the views of those who have taken over your party. If you don’t like what they’re telling you? Be free and independent, and walk. Here’s a resignation letter from a thirty-year, politically active member of the Republican party, posted today.

In The Red trilogy I had fun using the term “mediot” which is a contraction of “media” + “idiot”. I first used this term way back in the late 90s in my novel Deception Well and it’s been one of my disappointments that no one else uses it! Cable news is where mediots are commonly found. My advice: Don’t watch cable news. Their coverage is incredibly poor, and much of it is click bait. Read instead, from respectable publications. Read The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Defense One. Read legitimate newspapers.

America faces problems and challenges. We always have and we always will. We can handle it. We are not a weak and fearful people.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

July 11th, 2016

TRIBE by Sebastian JungerEvolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould used Kipling’s term “just-so stories” to describe explanations of biological forms and functions that sounded good, but didn’t hold up to closer examination. This was on my mind as I finished Sebastian Junger’s latest book, Tribe.

Junger is the author of the excellent and highly recommended War, a narrative of his time as an embedded reporter in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Tribe is a short book by comparison. It looks at human societies and especially the egalitarian social structure of some tribes. It also considers the impact of struggle on group cohesiveness, the experiences of soldiers both at the frontline and after coming home from war, gender roles, and many other things. It’s a quick read, always fascinating, and packed with interesting and provocative anecdotes — but by the end I was suspicious that I’d read something close to a “just-so story.”

Early on, Junger talks about the effect of disasters on human society, using examples of strategic bombing during World War II and a study by Charles Fritz that looked at the way people behave during natural disasters:

Fritz “was unable to find a single instance where communities that had been hit by catastrophic events lapsed into sustained panic, much less anything approaching anarchy […] people overwhelmingly devoted their energies toward the good of the community…”

The idea this leads to is that in such situations, innate tribal bonds rise to the surface, and people are more willing to work and sacrifice for the group, rather than working for themselves alone.

Junger follows with a poignant observation: “The beauty and the tragedy of the modern world is that it eliminates many situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good.” In other words, we are safe and wealthy enough that we can live in isolation, but that means we’re living in isolation, with the implication that this is an unhappy existence.

The book contains discussions of gender roles, leadership styles, the appeal of tribal social structures, and also the toxic political environment we presently endure:

“People speak with incredible contempt about — depending on their views — the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign-born, the president, or the entire US government. It’s a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime […] Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker…”

There is a lot here to like and a lot to think about, but for me, romanticizing tribal societies is troubling. As soon as I finished Tribe, I went to look for a counterpoint — I was sure I’d find one — and I did. In response, Ann Marlowe at Tablet, asks “Do We Really Want To Be Members of a Tribe?” and takes a hard look at many points of the book.

Nevertheless, I recommend Tribe — it will give you much to think about.