Win A Story Critique By, Uh, Me!

Worldbuilders does some really great sci-fi related charity work, and so I’m happily volunteering my time to help em out. You can help them out by donating!

Basically, every $10 you donate gets you a chance to win a critique from a pretty stellar group of authors, and somehow also I am included. The list (and the opportunity to donate) is here.

Should you get a critique from me, I’ll do up to 10k words, giving you an opportunity to see what a real Clarion-level critique looks like, focusing on structure, voice, and creating tension. I’ll be gentle but firm.

And if you don’t feel like getting a critique from me, well, Worldbuilders could still use your help. So if you have the coins to spare during this holidayish season, donate!

311,796 Words.

I know I’ve been absent from blogging and social media as of late, for good reasons, and I’ll explain that sooner or later (with a necessary apology appended, don’t argue, I know when and what I need to apologize for). But I’m firing up this dusty blog to mark one special occasion:

I have finished the longest novel I’ve ever written in my life.

It’s taken me eighteen months from start to finish to make even this rough draft, and it’s 311,796 words. For the record, Flex was 80k, Sol Majestic was 90k.

To answer your questions: Yes, this is an untenable length for a book. No, it’s not written as a trilogy. No, I have no idea whether I can sell it to a publisher or not. It’s just a sweeping lapbreaker of a book that covers multiple viewpoints over ten years, a big 70s-style generational saga with a fantasy twist.

No, it will not be available to read soon. It’ll take me months of effort just to get it ready and revised for beta readers. All this effort was just to push out the rough shape of it, and fine-tuning it to get the themes and characters and history right is its own separate effort.

And what’s it about? Well, it’s about 312,000 words is what it is. I can’t say more than that, simply because blasting out details of unsold projects tend to be difficult for publishing purposes at times. And this is a strangely personal project; I wrote it on the way out to help my mother with her cancer treatments, reading it to my wife chapter by chapter as we drove cross-country, and she absolutely adores it. If it turns out to have more use than that, then great, but as it was it did what it what it was intended to do.

(…I hope. I’ve still gotta read the last four chapters to her. This dysfunctional pile of pages also has 40,000 word chapters, so you gotta understand that the words “easily published” really do not apply.)

I’ve been quiet, and probably will continue to be quiet; if you miss me, feel free to contact me directly.

But this is a special day, and I am celebrating. If you too would like to celebrate, feel free to join me.

Love to you all.

Update On My Mother

So in addition to my usual SAD, I’ve been staying with my Mom while she’s been getting a biopsy and waiting for news on progress on her multiple myeloma. She’s been in chemo treatments (thankfully light ones, but still poison) for eight months now, and we didn’t know how things had gone.

As it turns out, pretty well. She’s gone from 40% to 5-10%, which means she’s responding well to the treatment and on the way to a potential partial remission. The bad news, such as it is, is that she has to keep going to chemo, but only because the rule here is “Keep blasting her bones with poison until the numbers stop going down.” (Or, in medical parlance, “The numbers plateau.”) So that’s good.

My brain being the asshole that it is, however, I’ve been pushing back all my Seasonal Affective Depression to go “Keep it together for Mom, keep it together for Mom,” and now that she’s (reasonably) okay my brain went “SHE’S OKAY! SLAM HIM!”, and this morning is a mass of detached anxiety tumbling over my doorstep. So it goes.

Anyway. My Mom’s okay. That’s what I need right now. So we’re good.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light: A Memoir.

We were alone in a car in a parking lot, talking and occasionally kissing.

I was still very new to this.

My adolescent years had been a seething hell of isolation, spending three long years without a single friend to call my name, and I had come to terms with the fact that not only would I die a virgin, I’d probably never so much as kiss a girl. And yet thanks to a chain of events that had led me to a group of friends who’d brought me to an Emmaus Catholic gathering had led me to a college girl being interested in me, I was alone in a car with an older girl who occasionally kissed me.

I did not know what to do, really. I was like a housepet, just grateful to be there. I talked, and we sang along with the radio, and occasionally made out and I got to touch parts of a girl that I never thought I’d touch and every bit was this immense gift from heaven.

We hadn’t discussed my virginity, but she had to know it; I radiated virginity, blasting this awkward eagerness like an antenna. And I was, apparently, cluelessly charming for all of that – I knew how to tell a joke, I knew how to listen, I had interesting opinions – but I was not going to press for sex because honestly, it never really occurred to me that it was an option.

I mean, I wanted sex. But I was so terrified of breaking whatever tenuous spell existed in this car, in this odd relationship we had, that I didn’t ask for anything. I just showed up, and did whatever she asked.

And in retrospect, I can see where she was coming from; here I was, this cute and clueless boy with potential, but did she want to take my virginity? Would I imprint on her like a baby duckling, turning this summer fun-time into an agonizing breakup when I tried to follow her to college? I was a bit of a fixer-upper, but how much of a project would I be?

Would I be fun, or a regrettable decision?

And that’s when “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” floated across the radio.

If you’re not familiar with “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” it is a rock operetta where a boy tries to convince a girl to have sex with him in his car, and the girl tries to deny him. It is a three-part, eight-minute song with a surprisingly downer ending; the boy promises to “love her ’til the end of time,” she agrees to do the deed, they become unhappily married forever.

But it does have a lot of harmonies.

And it is super-fun to sing.

And so we sang it, not really thinking of the sex part (or at least I wasn’t), just losing ourselves in the fun of bouncing around in the car and doing a little backseat karaoke.

And then we got to the end.

The end is a sad part where the boy and the girl sing two different parts, independent of each other, signalling how separated they’ve become. Meatloaf sings “It was long ago and it was far away, and it was so much better that it is today” while Ellen Foley sings “it never felt so good, it never felt so right, we were glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife.”

To Beth’s surprise, I was able to sing my part while she sung her part.

We got to the end. Her eyes widened.

“Everyone else gets confused at the end of that song,” she said. “They step on my part.”

“Not me,” I shrugged, not thinking much of it.

Later on, she told me that was the moment she decided to have sex with me.

And in retrospect, I wish I’d asked why – but I didn’t ask why then, that was my whole raison d’etre, I was the cheerful charlie accepting whatever she chose to give.

But I do think I know. I think that little harmony was the proof she needed that I was independent enough – that I wasn’t just following her lead, I was there for my own purposes.

Was it a great sign, a thunderbolt from the heavens? No. But she wanted to be with me, and it was a little push, that tiny nudge, that indicated that I would be okay if she chose to end this relationship at the end of the summer, which she did, which I was, which we were.

I lost my virginity in the back of that car for reasons I did not, and do not, fully understand. It wasn’t great sex – in fact, in retrospect, it was pretty terrible for me. But it was sex, and in that moment I broke a prophecy I’d made about myself that I would be forever alone, forever unkissed, forever shunned like I had been for the past three years running.

I still wear the shattered chains of that prophecy sometimes in my darker days, but I have not been alone, I have not died a virgin, I have not been a waste.

And I’d say that’s thanks to Beth, which is partly true, but it’s also true in part to Jim Steinman, author of that and so many other brilliant, operatic, magnificent songs – the man who wrote that alternating harmony that I will forever associate with a world slowly opening up for me, one kiss at a time, a college girl stunned as she realized that I could sing independently.

Thanks, Jim.

Thanks for being there for me at the right time.

Four Things That Make Me Happy: A Floor. A Pen. A Board. A Persona.

A Floor Is Making Me Happy.
We are now in the stage of our van-to-camper conversion that we are installing vinyl floor panels! And this is magical. All the stuff we’ve done up until now has been substrate work – insulation, boards to attach other boards to, waterproofing.

Last night we laid down the first four strips of our vinyl flooring and everything snapped into place. It was like a peek through a mirror – suddenly we got a glimpse into what this might look like when it was finished, and it felt like the hours of work we’ve put in (about twenty thus far) was paying off.

Don’t get me wrong; we got miles to go on this sucker. Due to many equipment shortages, it’ll take us a while to get to the next stage of this build, which is the electrical panel phase.

But we expect to have the floor finished by next week, and then we’ll be standing on all our hard work.

Four more floor than we've floored before
Four on the floor, more than we’ve done before

A Pen Is Making Me Happy.
The second pen, actually. The second pen that’s run dry.

See, in December, when I was breaking down, I turned to the Artist’s Way – which suggested that I do three pages of writing every morning to get in touch with my inner me. And I didn’t think I’d ever do that – I’m not a scheduled person, I’m a creature of chaos, I don’t even start work at the same time every day.

But I was desperate, so I tried it.

And this morning, my pen ran out of ink.

My pens don’t run out of ink. I lose them. I literally have two hundred pencils in my garage because I misplace writing implements constantly – also see: creature of chaos.

But every day, for almost four months now, I have been sitting down for the first thing every morning and writing. It’s immensely helpful; sometimes I fine-tune the plotting on the book segment I’ll be writing that night. Sometimes I dissect a troublesome nightmare, figuring out why it still haunts me. Sometimes I am in full-on panic mode and write blather until my inner therapist kicks in.

But my second pen has run dry – not lost, merely used, a symbol of all the ink I have constantly scribed upon these pages. It’s a milestone, and I am proud of developing what I hope will be a new habit.

A Persona Is Making Me Happy.
I’ve been plotting a new book based on the Persona videogames (with the serial numbers filed off), and I’m pretty happy with where my imagination is taking me, even if it’s not something I’ll start until I’m done with this current lapbreaker of a book.

I wrote about the process in my newsletter, and if you wanna see how I fit my ideas together into a coherent world, well, I think I explained that reasonably well.

A Board Is Making Me Happy.
Over the last couple of months y’all have doubtlessly noticed my Board o’ Happiness ™, where people send me little trinkets that can fit inside an envelope and I put them where I can see them. And this week is extra special personally – the “I Voted” sticker from Georgia, the state that can potentially give Biden enough power to become a great President, came with a letter that was meaningful –

But yesterday, at Gamestop, I found the three adorable little Funko pop Star Wars figures – all three of them! Board-sized! Luke, Leia, and Han! How could I resist? So I am extra-smiley about this today.

My Board o' Happiness (tm), Week Eight, with a tiny Luke, Leia, and Han

(As usual, if you want to send me something small for the Board o’ Happiness ™, hit me up and I’ll send you my address.)