Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Looking Back, and Looking Ahead

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Here we are at the end of the year. It’s a good time to take stock of writerly things. This isn’t meant to be a whiny post. More of a looking-reality-straight-in-the-eye post — and looking ahead at what’s to come

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Some writers have nicely ascending career paths. There may be a few setbacks, but overall the trend is up. For many of us – dare I say most of us? – that’s not how it goes. Oh sure, we enjoy the occasional triumph, but our careers are mostly a long, lonely slog through tough, soggy, mosquito-filled terrain, with only an occasional glimpse of snow-capped peaks rising in the distance—the Olympian heights! (This being a metaphor for bestseller lists, in case you missed that.)

For a while, it looked like The Red trilogy was going to be my path out of the fens — if not to the magic mountains, then at least to more solid ground. I mean, the critical response was pretty damn encouraging. Check out some of the crazy quotes here.

If you’re new to this blog and you’ve never heard of these books, here’s a brief history:

Back in 2013, I decided to self-publish the first of the trilogy, The Red: First Light, rather than trying to sell it to a traditional publisher. This was my first science fiction novel in ten years, and it went on to become a finalist for the Nebula award and second runner-up for the John W. Campbell Memorial award. It was picked up by Simon & Schuster’s Saga Press, given a gorgeous new cover, and in that incarnation was named as a Publishers Weekly best book of 2015. Saga Press published the second and third books in the trilogy in quick succession. Book 3, Going Dark, tied for first runner up for the Campbell Memorial award.

So I had reasons to get my hopes up, right?

These books had the most commercial potential of anything I’ve written. They are action oriented, and they extrapolate on real-world technology and politics. They are also heroic stories in which the actions of individuals do matter. Yes, they are written in a cynical tone (an amusingly snarky tone, I hope), but this was cynicism wrapped around a core of idealism. In other words, they’re culturally appropriate for a large swath of American readership. As evidence of that, they’ve had multiple inquiries regarding film and TV rights, and in fact were optioned for TV (an agreement now expired).

This was all far more than I’d expected … but the path peters out if potential readers miss those reviews, or if they decide for reasons of their own to skip the books, or if they never hear of the books at all because they don’t read reviews and rely instead on chance, name recognition, or word of mouth to choose their next read.

The trilogy garnered enthusiastic readers — and I’m grateful for every one of you! — but despite all the good omens, it failed to capture the attention of enough readers to make it a success. Sales languished. The books sank out of sight.

Hell, yes, this was disappointing. And I could write a long, disgruntled post speculating on the reasons why it happened — in fact I did — but I’ll spare you that. We’re here at the turn of the year and it’s time to move on, because…

I’VE GOT ANOTHER NOVEL ON THE WAY!

::cheers::

::confetti::

Hey, I’m excited about it. I hope you are too. I really, really hope you’re excited, because I’m going to need you’re support on this.

So what’s it called? What’s it about? That post will go up at the New Year. But here’s a hint:

In these crazy, frightening, rapidly changing times my focus has been captured by the near future. Where are we going? What are some of the implications of our rapidly developing technologies? What impact might they have on the way we see ourselves, and on what we value in ourselves, given that we are still operating under the templates of our ancient tribal minds? These are some of the themes behind a thriller that’s written on a very human scale.

So check back soon. And in the meantime, if you haven’t done so already, sign up for my occasional newsletter (see the form in the upper right column). It’s one more way to keep in touch.

Writing Goals for 2016:
The Assessment

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Since 2011, I’ve been publishing a list of my writing goals for the year, and at the end of the year I take a look at that list and assess how I did at meeting those goals. So it’s time to assess 2016. What follows is a list of the goals I posted on January 1 2016, and how I did on each one:

1. FINISH the current novel-in-progress, where “finish” means it’s been revised and polished and is in my agent’s hands.

DONE. Done. Totally done.

2. START the next novel, where “start” means figure out the general idea behind it, and develop a rough outline with a list of characters. Bonus points for actually writing the opening.

This is actually DONE too. I’ve outlined a new novel and written the first 5,000 words. Circumstances being what they are, though, I will likely dump this novel… er, I mean, put it aside… and try to come up with something more traditional and possibly more marketable.

3. PUBLISH a second short story collection. This is going to be a round up of all my short fiction published since 2012.

DONE, with the caveat that it doesn’t include all my short fiction — I’ve held back the two Zeke Choy stories. Still, eight short stories! For more details on the new collection, click here.

4. Write a short story in THE RED story world.

DONE. This story was requested for an anthology that I really wanted to participate in, so that gave me the motivation to get it done.

5. Write at least one hard-SF short story unrelated to anything else I’ve done.

NOT done. Other than the story mentioned above, I didn’t even start any new short fiction this year. However, I did rediscover a story I wrote two years ago, but never sent out. It was better than I remembered, so I revised it and am now in the process of marketing it.

6. Write at least one novella set in an existing story world.

NOT done. This was an unmet goal from both 2015 and 2016, and it will now roll over into a 2017 goal.

Overall, 2016 was not a good year for my writing career. I’ll admit that my confidence has faded, along with the enthusiasm of a few years ago, and without that confidence and enthusiasm it’s been a lot harder for me to write. Still, I managed to do most of what I’d hoped to do. So I’ll give myself a pat on the back, and try to do better in 2017.

Did you have writing goals for 2016? How did you do?

Persistent Technologies

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

I’ve been catching up on my reading, and chanced to find — almost simultaneously — two articles looking at the potential advantages of old, seemingly outdated technologies.

The first, “What An NFL Coach, The Pentagon And Election Systems Have In Common” starts off with a discussion of Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, angrily rejecting the use of tablets during football games, calling the technology “undependable.” It goes on to talk about the inherent security of the paper trail generated by America’s old-fashioned and decentralized voting system, and the potential security in the antiquated software behind some weapons systems. As someone who is still using an ancient version of Windows on my writing computer, I am in total sympathy with the latter. 🙂

The second article, Why the US Military Still Flies Cold-War Era Planes looks at old, “persistent” technology from a different angle. The U2 was first built in 1955. It’s still flying today. Why? Because it still does the job:

“With its interchangeable nose cones and sophisticated surveillance equipment, there’s no reason not to think of the U-2S as a cutting-edge, contemporary technology

Like all technologies, planes are flexible. They change both through use and through the actions of their users. They undergo maintenance and updates…

I like this term, “persistent technology.” It’s a good concept to keep in mind when writing near-future fiction. Not everything has to be shiny and new.

Is it Better to Write a Series or…?

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

court_of_fives_kate_elliottThis is a short post for writers…although I’m sure readers have opinions too.

Recently on Twitter (where I spend far too much time) Kate Elliott, author of many excellent fantasy series, was asked an interesting question. Paraphrasing here: For a first novel is it better to write a stand-alone, a duology, or a trilogy?

Kate’s answer begins here and continues through a series of thoughtful tweets. I urge you to go read it:

I just wanted to add that there is one more alternative to consider: writing “related” novels…or, in a dark-humor vein, a “fake series.” This is how I started my novel writing career.

In a real trilogy — the Red Trilogy, for example — each successive book relies on the one that came before. In each book the writer ought to make an attempt to refresh the reader’s memory about past events, but it’s assumed the reader will be familiar with what went before, and that the story will build directly on that. There will also be an overall narrative arc that runs from book 1 to book 3 (or however many books are in the series).

But when it comes to traditional publishing, there are a couple of potential problems with writing a trilogy. First, if books one and two don’t do well in the market, book three may never be published. Consider that there are readers who won’t begin a trilogy until all the books are out. What happens if a large number of readers follow this strategy? Then very few copies of the first and/or second book will sell during those crucial early weeks after publication, and if that happens, there’s a good chance the publisher will simply cancel the series before it’s done.

The second problem was more crucial in the days before ebooks, but it can still affect a writer’s career today. This is when the publisher is willing to go ahead and publish all three books in a trilogy, but allows the first book in the trilogy to go out of print. Yes, really. It’s happened many, many times, and of course this means that the series is unlikely to win new readers, because the first book is unavailable to read. This is less of an issue in this age of ebooks, because ebooks are forever. But (so I’m told) a lot of readers still prefer print.

My response to this, in the days before ebooks, was to write “related novels.” In those days, books would go out of print fast — under a year in many cases. Knowing this, I made a decision to write my early novels as “stand alones.” So if we look at the Nanotech novels, all four share the same story world and some share characters, but each presents a complete story and can be read by itself. In fact, in their Bantam Spectra editions, the Nanotech books were never sold as a series. Over the years I’ve had readers tell me they picked up Vast first, read it, enjoyed it, and never suspected that there were three earlier novels they “should have” read first. That’s how a stand alone is supposed to work!

Anyway, writing “related” novels is one more strategy in the writer’s toolkit.

“Done”

Monday, October 10th, 2016

I just sent my agent the final-for-now version of the new novel. Naturally, as soon as I decided it was done, my writing mojo went on vacation…which is making it difficult to write a short story that I need to get done. :-/

Home Again + Progress Report

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

Road to Lassen NPHome again and happy to be here!

Oddly enough, the football season determined our travel schedule this year — the University of Hawaii’s football season, to be precise. Ron is an avid fan, so when he heard the UH team would be opening the 2016 season in Sydney, we decided that would be a fine time to revisit Australia. But we also wanted to visit family in the Pacific Northwest. The only time we could do that — without Ron missing any home games — was last week.

So we had two-and-a-half weeks between trips, with a friend visiting us in between — and that didn’t leave me much time to write!

What am I working on? Well, the same new novel that I’ve mentioned in recent progress reports, including that last, “final” report. (In this business, “final” is a relative term.)

At last report, I mentioned that I’d sent the manuscript to my agent. He read it while we were down under and gave it a very enthusiastic thumbs-up. But he also had a few suggestions that he thought would enhance the closing sequence. His ideas made sense to me, so I agreed to undertake one more round of revision — and I’m really pleased with the results so far.

I’ve got just a couple more items to address before I send the manuscript back. I’d best get on that.

More soon…

Flying out of Oakland

Final Work-In-Progress Report + Various

Monday, 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.

Work-In-Progress Report

Saturday, 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

Thursday, 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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“On Proposal” vs “On Spec”

Sunday, 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.