Memorial Day 2020

Memorial Day is meant to honor those who fell in the service of their country.

So today, I’d like to give my thanks to the grocery workers who contracted Covid-19 while making sure we could feed our families.

To the doctors and nurses who caught Covid-19 while fighting this new disease.

To the truckers, keeping goods and commerce flowing, who risk infection every time they step out of their vehicles for gas or a bathroom break.

To the warehouse employees — for Amazon, Target, Wal-Mart, and others — who died needlessly, because their wealthy bosses couldn’t bear to lose a single cent to sick leave.

In this pandemic, we’ve discovered who the essential workers really are. And it’s not the CEOs of the world.

It’s those keeping us fed, keeping us safe, and keeping us alive.

I thank you, all of you, for your service.

Keeping Score: May 22, 2020

After two good weeks in a row, it was time for a rough one.

Had to shift my schedule up by three hours this week, for work. Well, I say shift my schedule, but…there’s no way I’m going through my normal morning routine (writing, walking) at 4:30 in the morning.

So it’s more like I abandoned my schedule, and then jet-lagged myself (while staying at home!).

As you can imagine, my writing output has suffered.

But it hasn’t ground to a halt! I’ve managed to keep the writing streak alive, carving out time after work (thank the gods for afternoon naps) to make progress on both the novel and the short story, again on altering days.

Not always much progress, mind you. Several days “just get one sentence down” wasn’t just a trick to get me to write, it was all I could get down.

But I did it, and I’m through to the other side, and can catch-up on sleep and (writing) work this weekend.

And reading. Surprisingly hard to read when your body is in the wrong timezone.

What about you? Have you settled into a new routine, and managed to keep with it? Or have the re-openings, patchwork as they are, disrupted the schedule you built during lockdown?

The Right Way to Do Wrong, by Harry Houdini

Disappointingly, this is not the full original text. It’s been trimmed down by almost half, and then padded out with other articles Houdini wrote.

Still, what’s left behind is fascinating. Lots of great stories of scams and burglary, from using chewing gum to steal jewels to having a confederate hide in a checked trunk in order to steal from a “locked” luggage compartment. Many good story ideas buried in here.

You can see why Houdini was so fascinated by the techniques of thieves and con-men. So much of their work involved mis-direction and slight of hand, the same techniques he used as a magician.

You can also understand why he went after mediums and psychics so hard: They were using those same techniques of magic, but not presenting themselves as magicians.

Thus they were not only defrauding the public, but casting legitimate magicians like himself in a bad light. Because they were frauds, and so when they were discovered — which they almost inevitably were — they made reputable magicians like himself look like frauds, too. Better that he unmask them, to make the difference more distinct.

So, a good book, still, though far too short. I’ll have to track down a complete version at some point.

Keeping Score: May 15, 2020

Current writing streak: 64 days.

Finally reached the part of the novel where I’m back to editing, instead of writing new chapters. It’s made things easier going, on that front. Less intimidating to sit down with words already on the page, and know I’ve just got to make them consistent with everything else.

There’s a few chapters at the very end where I’ll need to be drafting from scratch again, but for now, at least, it’s smoother sailing.

Of course, this won’t be the end of my editing passes. I’ll need to do at least one more of what I’m thinking of as “consistency passes” to check all the new material against what’s already there. Then I’m planning on doing a dialog pass for each main character, to ensure they speak consistently throughout. Finally I’ll do a phrase and copy-editing pass, looking for awkward wording or cliché description.

So still plenty to do.

I’ve also continued to work on the short story on alternate days this week. I wasn’t sure I was ready to start writing the new section of that work, to be honest, but by focusing on just one little detail at a time — Anne Lamott’s one-inch frame technique — I’ve managed to add ~1,000 words to the draft. If I keep this up, I might actually have the draft done (and ready to set aside, for later editing) next week.

Which would be…amazing. I wasn’t sure I could ever get back to some sort of functioning writing schedule during the pandemic. Or get back to writing more than just a sentence or two a day. But something’s happened recently, like a mental fog has lifted. I’m able to brainstorm again, and hold both of these storylines (the story and the novel) in my head again, and write a page a day again.

It may not last. I’m going to appreciate it while it does, though. I know not everyone has been as relatively fortunate as I have through this pandemic.

So I’m grateful, for the work I can do, while I can do it.

How about you? Have you felt like you’ve turned a corner lately? Or are things still too much in the air for your writing brain to settle into some kind of routine?

The Indian World of George Washington, by Colin G Calloway

This is the kind of American history I wish they’d taught me in school.

It’s a story of intrigue, of diplomatic maneuvering between dozens of nations. Of military campaigns won and lost. Of peace betrayed and hope rekindled.

I would have eaten this stuff up. Did eat it up, when presented with the history of Europe in the Middle Ages or Japan’s Edo Period or China’s Warring States.

(Okay, so the latter two I only got exposed to via video games, not school, but still)

But teaching me this version of American history would have forced adults around me to acknowledge our part in this struggle. And most of the time, we were the villains.

We made treaties with Native American tribes, swearing to abide by some border line, and then promptly set about settling past that line. We struck deals with the leaders of individual villages and then insisted whole tribes adhere to them. And when those tribes refused to sign new treaties with us, establishing new boundary lines, we invaded, burned their villages to the ground, and slaughtered their people.

And Washington was at the heart of all of this.

As First President, he established the policy of buying Native American land when we could, and killing them all if they wouldn’t sell. He also pushed them to become “civilized,” which in his mind meant dropping their own culture — including their sustainable agriculture, their religion, and their gender roles — and adopting settler culture wholesale.

Why would he do this? Because he speculated in Native American land, buying up the “rights” to tracts that hadn’t been formerly ceded by any tribe. He needed those boundary lines pushed back, that land cleared of Native Americans, and then settled by Europeans, if he was to recoup any profits.

This is the part of American history that has white squatters fighting both Native Americans and elites back east for their “right” to seize land.

The part that has our very first treaty under the Constitution negotiated with a Native American tribe.

The part that has Washington taking time out of the Revolutionary War to have three armies loot and pillage their way through Iroquios territory, destroying crops and peaceful towns as they went.

And its the part that shows the Native Americans as what they were: A free people, with their own politics and divisions, struggling to deal with the invasion of their lands. Some sought peace, some wanted to fight, and some moved rather than deal with the Europeans. But all of them thought of themselves as their own nations, with control over their own territory, and their own sovereign rights.

Something Washington never conceded to them, and he embedded that denial in our relationships with the tribes from the start.

This sort of history is complicated, and Calloway does an fantastic job sorting through it. Amazingly, he condemns Washington’s mistakes without finger-wagging.

It’s enough to relate them truthfully. The First President condemns himself.

Keeping Score: May 8, 2020

The streak’s alive! I’ve managed at least 30 minutes of writing for 57 days straight now.

Alternating the days I work on the novel with the days I work on the short story seems to help, too.

I’ve even started tracking my daily word count again, when working on the novel. I don’t let myself stop writing until I hit 250 words.

As a result, I’ve made notable progress on it. Finished three new chapters, and I’m ready to start editing down the next few.

And for the short story, I’m gathering notes on my research and getting plot points nailed down. This weekend (or early next week) I think I’ll be ready to start writing some dialog, and then gradually fill in the rest.

Oh, and I have three other pieces submitted to paying markets. Keeping in the habit of sending them right back out a few days after a rejection comes in.

So this week has been good, relatively speaking. Still not operating at 100%, creatively, but I’m finding a new normal, a new pace of working to make a habit.

What about you?

Congress Should be Bigger

Over in The Atlantic, David Litt argues that Congress should be much larger than it currently is:

In the 90 years since the cap [on the number of reps in Congress] was put in place, the number of House seats has stayed flat while the population has boomed. To put it slightly differently, each member of Congress has become responsible for several times more constituents. District populations have doubled since my parents were born, in the late 1950s. In my own 33-year lifetime, the number of Americans per lawmaker has increased by about 200,000—the equivalent of adding a Salt Lake City to every district in the United States.

Believe it or not, I’ve been working on a similar post, coming at the argument through looking at the ratio of people-to-reps in other countries.

Litt makes the case much better than I ever could (for example, I didn’t know that the number of House Reps was commonly increased after every census until 1919!), but here’s a plot of person-per-rep vs population for about two dozen democracies, from Mexico to South Korea to Nigeria to Norway:

My kingdom for a better chart app

You’ll notice most countries are clustered together in the lower-left-hand corner.

See that outlier, waaaay up in the corner, far away from everyone else? That’s the United States.

First Story Published in Latest Galaxy’s Edge Magazine!

It’s here! The new issue of Galaxy’s Edge is out, and along with stories by Joe Halderman and Robert J Sawyer, it has my very first short story sale: “Wishr”!

It’s been a long road for this story. I wrote the first draft in September of 2016 (!). Since then it’s been through five major revisions, and multiple edits on top of that.

Several of those were prompted by early rejections. I’d submit it, get a rejection, revise the story, get beta reader feedback, and send it back out. Over and over and over again.

A slow process, but a necessary one. I’m proud of the story that’s resulted, and very proud to be a part of Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which was edited by Mike Resnick until his passing early this year.

Many thanks and congratulations to both the editor, Lezli Robyn, and the publisher, Shahid Mahmud, for keeping the magazine going, and his legacy alive.

So check out the new issue, and let me know what you think of the story!

Keeping Score: May 1, 2020

Current writing streak: 50 days.

50 days! That’s 50 consecutive days of working, bit by bit, on the novel, several short stories, and essays for the blog.

50 days of laying bricks, one at a time. Of sending out stories and getting rejections. Of wrestling with file formats, and Scrivener settings, all to conform to the particular submission guidelines of each market (sometimes “always follow the directions” is hard advice to hold to).

50 days of shoving the pandemic out of my mind for at least thirty minutes, each day, to go visit somewhere else in my imagination. A dearly needed mental vacation.

So, what’s new this week?

I’ve taken up the habit of alternating days in which I’m working on the novel with days where I work on something else. It’s a way of giving me a break from the general slog of the book without going too long without thinking about it. And it lets me make progress on some other projects.

Like the short story I started submitting to markets…two weeks ago? One of the rejections I got resonated with me. It took a while, but eventually that resonation joined up with some things my beta readers said, and crystallized this week into me thinking up a different ending for it.

The new ending changes the meaning of the piece. Shifts its emphasis. But I think it’s stronger, and more cohesive with the rest of the story. And it adds a little bit of just desserts for one of the characters.

So I’m going to give it a shot.

I say “give it a shot” quite deliberately. It might flop. It might make the story worse, not better. I might fail to execute properly. Any of which would mean I’d go back to sending it out with the original ending.

But I’d like to try, so I’ve been using my alternate days this week to brainstorm and outline the new ending. Sketch out scenes, decide sticky plot points, nail down questions that arise as I think it through.

It’s a different way of working for me — usually I just throw down the short story, outline be damned — and it’s slower, but I’d like to be more deliberate in the way I craft things. I feel like the more plot holes I can fill during the outlining, the smoother the actual writing process will go. It should let me focus on the writing itself, because I’ve thought through the action and character beats already.

We’ll see. Wish me luck.