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 200,000โ€”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.

Quarantine Dreams

I’m having trouble sleeping.

I wake up multiple times in the night, thinking I’ve heard our dog bark or someone move in the house beneath our bedroom.

Sometimes I fall right back to sleep, but often I’ll just lay there, my brain chewing over some problem from the day, unable to rest.

When I do sleep, I dream. But nothing comforting: I dream of the world we’ve lost.

I dream of going to a pub for dinner. Of going on a trip at the airport. Seeing a movie.

Mundane things. Well, mundane before.

Even there, the pandemic intrudes. I go to a pub, intending to meet friends like normal, but my wife and I take masks with us, and sit 6 feet apart. The airport we go to is mostly deserted, and the planes never arrive. On our way to the movie theatre, someone yells at us for being outside.

So my dreams bring no comfort. No escape from reality.

In truth, I know I’m lucky. Both my wife and I have been healthy so far. We’ve had enough food and toilet paper (though it was touch and go the first two weeks). And our current house is new enough that nothing major has broken on us (yet).

I just…I wish I could relax enough to rest, and sleep, again. And dream of something else.

Keeping Score: April 24, 2020

This week has been…strange.

I received the contract (and check!) in the mail for my first short story sale, which is getting published soon in Galaxy’s Edge magazine after being accepted last August. That’s been an emotional roller-coaster ride all its own, but it’s going to work out in the end.

The same day, riding high on waves of optimism, of the proof that I can write something someone will pay for, I received the latest rejections for two of my short stories that are out circulating.

I know I can’t take any of it personally, but it truly felt like one step forward, two steps back, that day. Made me wonder if perhaps the one sale is all I’ve got in me. It’s nonsense, of course — I’ve got twenty or thirty years of writing left (with luck), and surely can improve a little in all that time — but it’s hard to stare self-doubt in the face and insist you know the future when everything is so uncertain, for everyone.

So, I’m going to do the only thing I can do: Write more, and revise it, and send it out. The only thing I have control over.

How about you? What do you do, when you feel like you’re getting conflicting signals from the outside world about your writing?

An Outline for The Boys, Season Two

I haven’t truly binged-watched a show in a long time. Yes, even with the epidemic, I’m more often working or doing chores than watching something on streaming.

But The Boys is so irreverently good, so twistedly watchable, that I started it on Friday and spend Saturday finishing it off.

There’s currently only one season, and when the last episode was over, I thought: Well, they just blew everything we knew up. Where could they go from here? Could a Season Two be even close to as good as this?

Dear Reader, I think it can.

Below is my outline for a Season Two.

Major Spoilers for the The Boys Season One follows

Butcher

Butcher starts Season Two with everything he’s built his life on for eight years suddenly knocked out from under him. His wife’s alive, she’s been raising the kid she had with Homelander, and she’s never, not once, tried to contact him about it or tell him the truth.

He’s going to struggle to come to grips with that. He’ll be in denial at first, and then angry when his ex-wife (and is she even his ex?) lays it all out for him. There’ll be fights. He might try to move in with them — insisting on a husband’s prerogative — he might try to “rescue” Becca (which she’ll resist, confusing him more).

He might even try another attempt on Homelander’s life, using his new family as bait.

All of these efforts, this raging at the new reality, will fail.

Finally, at the end of the last fight with his ex-wife, when the bleak truth has settled in, he’ll remember something Homelander dropped at the end of Season One, when he was talking to Stillwell (who was all tied up with explosives at the time): The name of the scientist who created Homelander.

Butcher will shift gears at that point, away from Becca, and towards a new goal: To track down this scientist, and guilt him into making a formula to undo his greatest mistake. Something that neutralizes the effects of Compound V, making Supes normal again.

Homelander and Becca and the Kid

Meanwhile, Homelander has been trying to play house with Becca and his son.

But he’s bad at it. Incredibly bad at it. Becca doesn’t really want him there, the kid wants a dad but can’t relate to someone raised in a lab, and Homelander himself has no role models to imitate.

Butcher himself might help here, in a scene where he’s feeling low and takes pity on Homelander for once. Gives Homelander an in, something he can do to bond with his son.

But it’s too little, too late. In an attempt to show “tough love”, Homelander ends up killing the kid’s favorite pet. Becca drives him out of the house, tells him not come back.

The Seven (as was)

With Homelander distracted, Maeve steps in to lead The Seven.

It’s a literally thankless job. Their new manager at Vought feels nothing but contempt for Supes, seeing them as just more dangerous versions of spoiled celebrities. And every interview Maeve gives, someone asks her about Homelander. Even when he’s gone, he overshadows her.

So she begins making some changes, to get some attention. She brings back a disgraced Supe, makes them part of the Seven. She gets back with her ex, and comes out of the closet.

It all unravels, though, when she finds out how Starlight has betrayed them all (in working with Hughie to take down Vought from the inside, tracing the route of Compound V to supervillains) and Homelander returns, all in a rage from his failed family experiment.

Hughie and Starlight and the Gang

Finally, “The Boys” has stopped being an all-boys’ club. Kimiko and Frenchie are an item, and more and more Kimiko is willing to help them in their crusade against Vought (though reluctantly at first).

Hughie and Starlight’s relationship remains fragile. They’re friends and allies, but arguing constantly about the best way to go about things. Each time of them reaches out to rekindle their romance, the other pulls back, wounded and mistrustful from their last fight.

Because of all this back-and-forth, Starlight doesn’t realize how deep she’s gone to the other side until Maeve confronts her about it towards the end of the season, framing everything as Starlight’s attempt to undermine her and take over leadership of the Seven.

The Climax

Everything comes to a head all at once.

Homelander returns in the middle of Maeve and Starlight’s fight, pissed at everyone and everything.

Starlight’s fight delays her helping Hughie and the gang getting into Vought’s headquarters for the final piece of the evidence, making them think Starlight’s betrayed them.

They break into the lab themselves, where they find Butcher, happily switching everything over to churn out the Compound-V antidote. He’s carrying a rifle that’s been modified to fire doses of the antidote, so he can make Homelander mortal.

And everything goes to shit when the world’s first supervillain team chooses that moment to assault The Seven in their Vought HQ.

Keeping Score: April 17, 2020

Another week. I’ve kept the writing streak going; currently at 36 straight days.

Managed to pick up work on the novel again. I worried I might not be able to get back in the headspace that easily. But it turns out if you’ve worked on something for two years, you can dive back into it without too many issues ๐Ÿ™‚

Had to think back through the chapter I was working on, though. The plot I’d had when I last put it down didn’t fit with the setting I’d established, and — to be perfectly honest — wasn’t that interesting.

This new version I’m writing is harder, emotionally, but it’s better.

Which seems to be true about a lot of the rewrites I do. The ones that are harder for me to write, to push my characters through, are the ones that make the story shine.

I’m keeping my daily goals modest, though. Sketch out a conversation here, set down a turning point over there, and that’s it. Slowly stitch it all together over the course of the week. Review it — but don’t edit it yet! — and mark the progress made.

It’s these little steps, little victories, that keep me going.

What about you?

Review: Brydge Pro Keyboard

I’ve tried both Logitech and Zagg’s versions of the iPad keyboard/case combo before, and neither of them worked out for me. The Logitech version was rugged and had a good keyboard, but it was too hard to get the iPad out of the case when I wanted to use it as a tablet. The Zagg folio felt cheap, and wasn’t comfortable to type on.

I’m currently using the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio, and it’s…fine. The angle that it sets the screen at is too steep to be comfortable, and it doesn’t sit very stably on my lap, but it works, and I can type on it fast enough.

But I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Brydge keyboards, especially the “it makes it work just like a laptop” line. Comfortable to type on. Holds the screen at any angle you want. Easy to pull it out to become a tablet again.

So when they recently went on sale — because the new version, with a built-in trackpad, is coming — I snapped one up.

First Impressions

First off, this thing is absolutely gorgeous in the box. Like, I didn’t want to take it out, it was so pretty.

And the box itself is pretty impressive; it’s got a cheatsheet of what all the different function keys do printed right on the inside cover. There’s almost no need to refer to the included QuickStart instructions.

Getting the iPad in the clips isn’t too bad. They’re stiff, but moveable. Ditto taking it out again. You need a firm grip, and a willingness to pull hard on something you might have paid $1,000 for, but it can be done.

Typing

The typing experience on this keyboard is, in a word, miserable.

My accuracy immediately plunged when I tried typing anything at all on it. The keys are both small and very close together, making the whole thing feel cramped. I felt like I was typing with my hands basically overlapping, it’s that small.

On top of that, the keys sometimes stutter, or miss keystrokes. I had to strike each one much harder than I’m used to, which makes their small size and tight spacing even worse.

And the keyboard itself has a noticeable lag between when you open it to use it, and when it manages to pair with the iPad. It’s a small thing, to be sure, but when you’re used to the instantly-on nature of everything else on the iPad, it’s a drag to have to wait on your keyboard to catch up.

Oh, and did I mention the whole thing — keyboard, screen hinge, everything — lifts off the table as you tilt the screen back? So the further back the screen goes, the more the keys tilt away from the plane of the desk. Yes, that means you have to adjust your typing to the angle of the screen, which is…not normal?

Still, a proper Inverted-T for the arrow keys is nice to have back.

And controlling screen brightness from the keyboard is cool. Not worth losing all that space that could have been put into larger keys or better key gaps (or just better keys, period), but here we are.

Portability

Jesus, this thing is heavy. I mean, it feels as heavy as my 16″ work laptop. Definitely not feeling footloose and fancy-free while the iPad is locked into it.

As a bonus, it’s really slippery when closed, making it both heavy and hard to hold onto. Just an accidental drop waiting to happen.

And I don’t see how the tiny rubber things sticking up from the case are going to protect my screen when it’s closed, especially as the thing ages and those rubber nubs become…nubbier.

Using it as a Laptop

The clips holding the iPad in place are really stiff, except when they’re not. That is, anytime you forget it’s not a real laptop and pick it up by the ipad.

There’s also no way to open it when closed without knocking any Apple Pencil you have attached out of place.

It’s fairly stable on my lap, so long as I don’t tilt the screen back too far. There’s a point where the whole thing just starts to wobble.

While the iPad’s in it, it’s kind of hard to hit the bottom of the screen to dismiss the current application and get the home screen back. Thankfully, they included a dedicated Home button on the keyboard, a nice touch.

However, the “On-Screen Keyboard” key doesn’t work. At all.

Comparison with the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio

Using this made me realize things I want in an iPad keyboard that I never noticed before:

  • I don’t want to have to worry about plugging my keyboard in.
  • I don’t want to worry about having it come on and re-pair it with my iPad every time.
  • I don’t want to have to jerk on my iPad every time I want to convert it back to a tablet.

And the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio checks all of those boxes.

It’s also lighter, and the keys are spaced further apart, making it less cramped. They also don’t need as much pressure to activate.

Final Thoughts

So, yeah…I’ve returned the Brydge, and gone back to using the Smart Keyboard Folio.

I always thought of Apple’s version as the “default,” and that third-party keyboards would naturally be better. But it turns out weight, portability, and ease-of-use (no charging, always on) matters a lot more to me than I thought.

Keeping Score: April 10, 2020

Current writing streak: 29 days.

Another week of forcing myself into the chair, every morning, for at least 30 minutes. Am I writing new words all 30 minutes? No. But I’m working all the same: planning, outlining, brainstorming, and finally putting fingers to keyboard.

When I feel the usual terror setting in, I tell myself: Write one sentence. Just one. One sentence is a victory. One sentence is enough.

It turns out that once I have one sentence down, I can usually write another. And another. And before I know it, I’ve written a few hundred words.

Sometimes. Sometimes it really is just one sentence. And I have to treat that like the achievement it is; because that sentence didn’t exist before, and now it does. It might be terrible, it might be great, but I can edit it later. It exists to be edited later, only because I’ve written it.

So while forcing myself into the chair, I’ve finished a few projects:

  • Finished editing the short story I worked on last week
  • Sent that story out to beta readers for feedback
  • Submitted two more short stories to markets, one for the very first time

Next up: Back to the novel. I really, really, really want to finish the current draft; I feel like I’ve been working on it forever. It’d feel so good to have it done to the point where I could send it to beta readers, or at least have enough raw draft material down that I can whip it into shape via another editing pass.