A Week of Grindstones

I wrote that last post, had about one night of two hours of recreation, and then did the math and realized that I didn't get any more time off until my vacation starts at the end of next week. Unless I finish early (fingers crossed.) I can only count on getting about five days of productive work in during a given week, and I wanted to be finished next Wednesday night, if possible. See, I've been fighting off a cold and I learned when I did that draft of DbC 4 and then went straight into a convention that if I do that, I'll get pneumonia, so I'm relatively certain that if I do my normal 5 hour nights during this book, my immune system will lose the fight and I'll get sick right away. So I figured I need to add at least one extra day into that schedule.

So, at the end of the first week, I'm pretty close to halfway done. By the time you read this, I should be halfway done. Its going pretty well.

Meanwhile, Audible rejected DbC 2 again, for technical reasons. At least one of those reasons was super valid and would have been very embarrassing if it had made it through (it was shrapnel left over from a change they made us make the first time around). We've made those changes and I've done a full audit of the files. I think I've found all the little glitches. We're reuploading them for approval.

Meanwhile I'm trying not to fall behind on DbC 6, which is where all that loss of sleep usually goes. So far, that's worked out because I've had a couple events cancel, but we'll see if that holds up.

That's all for this week. Even with the enforced extra sleep, I'm very, very tired. Hopefully I'll stop being sick soon.

But the work doesn't stop just because I feel like crap.

Updates on Books 3, 4, 5, 6, and Beyond

All right. For a long time, I've been playing Dying Light. I started it in October as my Halloween game and it's a long game. Also, my schedule is busier now, both socially and writing-wise, so I don't often get a solid day of playing on any given game. Part of that is that my "game" time has partially been taken up by some roll20 character sheet design that I probably shouldn't have let myself get roped into. But that really is just all on a personal note. It hasn't really affected anything professionally. It's mostly taking longer because it hasn't affected anything. I'll keep taking nights off from it to work on writing stuff. I can't finish an 80-hour game in two weeks anymore, barring a major staycation.

So, updates! Book 3. I noticed that I hadn't heard anything from my publisher for a while. It turned out to be my fault because when I nudged the publisher about it, they asked me if I'd ever sent them the signed contract. I checked and found out that I, in fact, hadn't. I merely thought I had. So I sent that in and received my editorial assignment. We'll start that in earnest right after the holidays with a tentative release date set next year.

Book 4. I've been sitting on Book 4 while waiting for movement on Book 3 (not realizing that was my fault). I'll run it through their style guide this week and send it in.

Book 5. The first draft is done. This will be my project as soon as I finish Dying Light, or sooner if it looks like a risk I won't finish Dying Light in time to finish Book 5 before my Christmas Break (I try not to do be draft revision during my actual vacations, so I'll want to time it to be done before the 21st, which is my first day off, or better yet, the 20th which is the night my vacation starts.)

Book 6. This was my big push of NaNo, and I hoped to have enough of it done that I could kinda take December off, but the fact that it's a comedy and that whole rib/lack of sleep thing through a wrench in that. Still, I haven't missed a writer's group so I'm still on schedule, and I just passed the midpoint in the novel, so it's coming along nicely.

Beyond...

I don't know what happens beyond book 6 yet. I don't intend to stop DbC novels, but I might well take a break and start alternating in other novels. I might try to take them in a slightly new direction. At the end of book 6, I feel like they want to branch out. Book 6 is kinda my Return of the Jedi (in more ways than one). I'm not sure what the series looks like after. I'm curious to figure that out.

Hopefully a few of you are too.

Wow

So you're probably expecting a final NaNo update, but instead, I'm going to talk about ribs and degenerate into a discussion on health. Feel free to skip it if spinal health isn't your thing. On Thanksgiving, I dislocated 3-5 ribs. The experience was...let's say...bracing. This isn't the first time its happened, but it's one of the worst, and I couldn't breathe when I lay down to go to sleep every night. Friday a friend's wife managed to pop the three worst ribs back into place, which allowed me some relief, but I still had a great deal of trouble sleeping. I went to the chiropractor on Monday, but that didn't take and so I went Wednesday again.

The offshoot is that I'm just starting to get something like real sleep again. The vertebrae that caused the initial problem, sending the muscles into spasm and pulling the ribs out of their positions, still keep pinching nerves. I don't know how long it will be before I'm completely back to where I was, but I'm working on it.

I made the observation during the worst parts, in a moment of despair and pessimism, that this always seems to happen when I'm on vacation. Then I started to wonder if that was something other than just confirmation bias, but something about taking a week off work that messed up my back. I think it came clear Monday after my chiropractor appointment. I went home and sat in my comfy chair and within 20 minutes my back clicked out again. I used the restroom, then when I came back, I didn't put the footrest up (my comfy chair is a recliner). An hour later I felt much better. Now, a year or two ago, I had the back of that chair rebuilt, better than new, with extra reinforcement for back support, so I'm pretty sure it isn't a matter of it just being old. I think it's just that any recliner, unless its a solid chair sculted to a spinal shape, requires your postural muscles to hold your back in position. A weekend of that isn't a big deal, but after five days, my back snapped out of place, unable to handle it.

So I think that's the key. I got the chiropractor to give me a set of excercises to strengthen those muscles. Hopefully they will be better before christmas. Either way, I'm going to spend Christmas break alternating between reclining and sitting up, so that those muscles don't have to work for very long at one run. I think that's a plan.

Oh, and I didn't finish NaNo.

I'm on Vacation!

This week is me watching streaming television, playing with my entertainment setup, and trying not to get carpal tunnel syndrome playing Dying Light. There will also be the eating of turkey. And perhaps reflecting on thankfulness and the like.

As writers its very important to recharge our batteries. When I first started as a professional game designer, I had a 100,000-word month during an already busy time. At the end of that month, one of my publishers contacted me, after I'd turned in one of the books to ask me if I was all right. I still think fondly of her because she didn't think, "Bob is a crappy writer," or "Bob has lost his edge," but "Bob doesn't turn in work like this unless he's broken."

That's when I learned that I can push myself too hard, and that I need to take time for myself sometimes. I'll get pneumonia. I'll burn out. Then again, sometimes I write blog posts when I intended to just write "I'm on Vacation," scribble a single line, and then stop.

Because we're writers, and we might have a problem. But recognizing it is the first step, right?

NaNoWriMo Week 2

So, NaNo, week 2.

I finished last week with the question about how week two would be and what it would hold. If you've looked at the counter on the right, you'll see it went just about as well as week 1. Except that I didn't have a dental emergency. Although the filling from my first dental emergency did fall out, so I did have a dental event. I just decided it wasn't worth my time to get fixed. There was always a question about whether it would hold. It was a gamble, if a seventy or so dollar one.

But enough on whether or not I have a rough spot on my tooth. We were talking about NaNo. I put up another five thousand words or so last week. Was home sick two days, although that didn't necessarily impact my production very much. Writers Group went well. Didn't seem impacted by the fact that they were mostly NaNo words, which worried me some. I'm confident in my ability to write more dramatic fiction during November, but as I probably mentioned last week, this is my first time trying comedy, and comedy is hard.

So. Week three. I have a huge number of demands on my time this week. It seems almost every minute of it is booked, so writing time will likely have to come from my sleep cycles. Let's see how it goes.

NaNoWriMo Week 1

Wow. NaNo can be hard. :)

I've won NaNoWriMo two or three times in the past (to "win" means that you completed it, finishing more than 50,000 words by the rules of the contest). I have a full-time job each time, but at no time was it a high-demand job. In the past, my NaNoWriMo pattern went like this:

I set my novel goal at 100,000 words. I tore it up for the first three-quarters of the month, hitting my daily goal pretty much every day (or making it up the next day if I didn't). Then, around Thanksgiving, I'd take the day off to spend time with family. About that same time, I'd flame out, but at that point, I'd be in the 70k word range. I wouldn't go back to writing the book in November, or for the rest of the year for that matter, because I'd have enough material to feed my Writers' Group well into January.

Other writers would watch my progress and send me death threats.

There are two main things different about this NaNo.

1) This time I'm writing a comedy. Comedy is much more difficult to write than Drama/Action. Once I've outlined a dramatic work, I know pretty much how every scene looks. Things change as I write them, of course: no battle plan survives contact with the enemy and no novel outline survives contact with the word count, but a drama actually benefits from NaNo here. When you have a great idea while you're writing, your ability to execute it well is aided by having less time to forget it between having the inspiration and having the opportunity to execute it. There are exceptions, of course, but I'd say I forget far more great ideas than I have great ideas become more spectacular by germinating over time. The idea can still germinate over time after you write it into a book...that's what second drafts are for. A forgotten idea is often forgotten forever.

But comedy. If I know what I'm writing, I write a thousand words in about forty minutes. So if I'm trying to hit two thousand words in a day because it's NaNo and I want to be a little ahead, that's less than an hour and half of writing. Round up once you add in pulling things up, getting the outline ready, firing up iTunes, getting my drink and the like.

Comedy on the other hand, usually takes at least twice as long. Often longer. There's a joke, I think in book two, where I say, "There was enough blood to fill Wembley Stadium with pudding." That joke took me an hour to research. First I had to come up with the idea of the joke, which probably took me five or ten minutes. When I hit on the idea of making a blood pudding joke, I decided that I needed to come up with an analogy for blood pudding. After a bit of noodling, I decided that it needed to be a sports analogy and it should be hyperbole about volume. I went through every sports arena I could find in Scotland looking for one that a US reader would recognize by name, and finally decided that there probably were none, and while I don't explain my jokes in DbC (unless explaining them is the joke itself), they have to have some chance of landing. Then I expanded my search and found Wembly stadium, which has broad, international name recognition. Finally, I researched the penetration of blood pudding to determine that while it's a Scottish dish, it is certainly still eaten in England, at least enough that I felt good making the joke. When Howard Tayler, professional humorist, complimented the joke and I told him it took me an hour to research, he just said, "Welcome to my world."

NaNo is about writing fast. But this is my job. DbC 6 cannot suck because I wrote it during NaNo. I wrote one of my favorite trunk novels during NaNo. (It's at Baen right now, made it past the slush pile, and had been under consideration for a couple years). I don't slack on quality just because it's November.

2) I have a much more demanding job now. The first day of NaNo, I had a dental emergency. While the work itself wasn't too traumatic, when you aren't scheduled, you spend a lot longer in the chair because they work on you between the other patients. This time, it amounted to two and a half hours. I have a bad back, and this crippled me. If you know me, you know that I can't completely survive without pain pills, but I've come a long way. There have been times when I've needed to take six a day. I'd gotten to the point where I was taking them maybe one or two a week and I've gone two or three weeks taking none at all. After that dental visit I'm back to two or three a day, and likely will be for a month, until I recover.

Days two and three came in the first days of a big rollout at work, and I'm the point of the spear. The first of those I worked ten hours. The second I worked nine. So I can't just clock my eight hours and leave anymore. I have big boy responsibilities these days.

Still, I managed more than 5k words the first week, so I'm happy. You can see my joy on the widget to the right. You can also track my progress there, and compare my progress against your own.

Lets see what week 2 holds!

FearCon and NaNoWriMo

I spent this weekend at my first FearCon, which was fun. Except for the fact that I didn't bring any horror books to sell. I didn't actually confirm that I'd be at the convention until just a few days before and so I didn't have any of my horror anthologies there. You see, at almost every convention I do, there are about ten people selling those same anthos, and so I just direct people to one of them, and sign them when they come back to me. But with this being FearCon's second year, it wasn't really on my radar yet and so it sort of snuck up on me. While I was more than ready for my panels, I didn't have my supply of product ready for sales. But I don't go to these things to make a profit, so that part didn't really bother me.

My two normal panels went well if the noise levels were a little sub-optimal. We met great people. I think we imparted some good knowledge, and I'm pretty proud of what we did. In of Choose Your Own Apocalypse game, I played the werewolves again, and I won. There's a video of my Facebook feed of me singing Werewolf of London, should you really want to see it.

Also, I've decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. I have participated in years because I'm almost always mid-project when it begins, but this year I just learned about the Zokutou clause, which allows for people who've already won Nano to count words of works in progress (not prior words, you're just allowed to start counting whereever you are when November starts). I'm about 25k into DbC 6, so I'm just going to pick it up right where I am and start from there. I'll post my word counts to twitter to help inspire my Nano peeps.

That's it for this week. I hope everyone's stoked and ready for Novemember!

FearCon and an Update

So, it appears that I'm going to FearCon here in Salt Lake. I scheduled the time off a month ago, but I found out that I was actually scheduled...yesterday? So yes. I'll be a FearCon. I'll be selling books at a booth. I'll be at two panels plus a Choose Your Own Apocalypse Panel. There will be a musical number. If the audience seems into it, there may be dancing. We'll see. I've never been to a FearCon before. They are fairly new.

As for the book update, Audible rejected the audiobook for minor technical issues I won't bore you with. I've sent it back to the producer, but the offshoot is I suspect it will be at least another two weeks before it releases. So I'll officially announce book two in the next day or two. Expect a series of punch-drunk tweets. It's been a very, very difficult week.

I've got nothing else. It's going to have to be a short one.

Two (Or One and a Half) Out of Three

When Death by Cliché released, I believe all three formats of the book came online the same day. I had a feeling this wasn't going to happen with this book. For one thing, I believe we turned in the audiobook a bit later this time than last, so it hasn't had as much time to go through the approval process. For another, I've become more pessimistic. So since I haven't announced the book yet, let me start by updating on the three formats and where they stand as of the writing of this blog post.

The kindle version came online on the release date. Since it was available for preorder, that isn't particularly surprising. The paperback came online Friday, but its metadata doesn't match the kindle version, so they don't show as different versions of the same book (for one thing, the title displays differently). I told the publisher about that Friday night, but it's just been the weekend since then, so they haven't had time to fix that. The audiobook is still pending approval. If I remember DbC correctly, I expect that will probably pass approval sometime this week. Next at the latest. Unless it's rejected, of course.

I still don't want to make a big push without having all three versions to sell, and there's no reason to make a big deal about it. The people who really want copies are already buying them, so I can wait. I'm patient. I probably don't get a lunch break tomorrow at work, but I'll likely set up my book release party the next day.

In the meantime, the beta for Fantast Flight's Legend of the Five Rings RPG came out, so I've been reading that and building a character sheet for Roll20. That's devoured a lot of time and distracted me nicely. Tonight after I finish this post I'll get to go back to playing my second Halloween video game, which will probably be my last Halloween videogame. It's Dying Light, and it's huge. It will likely take me past Halloween itself. I'm enjoying the game, it's just big. It was a present from my friend Dan Willis.

But that's it. Most of my time right now is distracting myself before real sales numbers come in. The waiting can devour the corners of your sanity, and my sanity has never been great to begin with.

Or at least that's what the voices claim.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

This week (theoretically when you read this) Death by Cliché 2: The Wrath of Con releases. I'm not sure if all the formats will release at the same time. I'll probably save my big release announcement for either when all three formats are out or for when two of them are out and I know that the third will be on a considerable delay (if Audible sends back the audiobook for formatting work, for instance). Anyway, I write these in advance, so you might well already know the answer to that question before me. Perhaps I'm already annoying you in my social media stream. More likely, the formats are coming available in stages and I haven't said anything to announce the book yet.

I finished DbC 4 yesterday (as you read this). I'll parse that through the submission doc for the publisher and submit it pronto. Then I'll play my Halloween games (a yearly tradition) a little break before I start DbC 5's big edit.

This isn't a big post. The week before a release is a weird, tense time for me. I'll likely be more verbose next week.

A New Trope

Last week I started my big edit of Death by Cliché 4: A New Trope, prior to turning it in to the publisher. The timing came about because of two specific details. One, Comic Con was over, and I learned at FanX that if I draft a book during a Con I will wreck my health, and two, I needed a very specific expert critique for DbC 4 and I wanted an unbiased read on it, so I couldn't tell the people in question why I needed their critique. This meant none of them were especially motivated to finish. Critiquers are fickle. It's not at all unusual for me to have three or four (or even nine or ten) people not turn in a critique for every one who does, and since I didn't want to tell the people why I needed their feedback, this was no exception. It was Tuesday night last week before someone came through and I finally received the feedback I needed. The feedback was a green light to go forward. The reader in question had a couple good notes unrelated to the question I asked, but important to her perspective, and I was happy to receive them, but I totally didn't screw up where I was terrified I'd screwed up. So that was good.

Now: I'm done being all vague.

As of this writing (Sunday night), I'm almost halfway through the draft by word count. I am SO happy with how the book has shaped up. The book is my tribute to my great love, Star Wars, but to keep it from being too derivative I took it back to the original source, not watching A New Hope again, but instead watching Lucas's inspiration for the film, The Hidden Fortress, (and also Kagemusha, because I wanted to ruminate a little more on the plight of a double in Asian society). I'm really happy with the book at the moment. I feel like it's dancing in and out of the script of A New Hope in strange and interesting ways. At least one of my readers thinks so. We'll see if others do as well. It might be my best book.

I mean, until we get to five, of course. And then maybe six. We'll see. You hope you just get better at this as you go.

But let's get real. Even the Michael Jordan threw a brick once in a while (Not that I'm comparing myself to Michael Jordan, although I might write better than him, I haven't checked). Part of me is cringing and waiting for that moment of failure. It's easy to think that your career will be a steady hill to climb. It's harder to think of it as peaks and valleys and that your second book might be less successful than your first, or that your fifth might bomb, or that you might have to burn your first pen name at some point and start over, as some authors do. But these things happen. Of course my second book isn't out yet. I'm just discussing theoreticals. My second book is far superior than the first. Not that the first is bad, but there's ten years of experience between the two.

So I'm borrowing trouble.

I think I did this right before DbC released too.

Post Comic Con and Pushing Through the Pain

Salt Lake Comic Con has come and gone, and I'm slowly recovering. I was on four panels, and they all went mostly well. I only had complaints on one, the Expanse panel, and those complaints stemmed from us not covering the subjects various attendees came expecting to see. Since each of the complaints actually wanted us to cover a different subject, I'm not sure there was much we could have done about that one. That was Thursday, and I spent most of the rest of the day selling books, finishing up with a panel on RPGs for beginners. That was great fun. Good discussions with better people (Julie Johnson, Leigh George Kade, and especially Eileen Dobbins and Mark Middlemas, who I still maintain have crushes on me).

I had my obligatory Tolkien panel on Friday, which is my favorite part of Comic Con these days. I joke that it's me, Paul Genesse and my three Tolkien girl friends for that panel (Julie Andelin, Jennifer Jenkins, Kathryn Purdie). Larry Curtis moderated. Paul, Julie, Jennifer and I have done more of these than I can count. Kathryn and I go all the way back to college.

We finished with another near-annual tradition for me... moderating the action scene panel with Larry Correia, Peggy Eddleman, Emily R. King, Brian McClellan, and Eric James Stone. This panel is a great joy to me. I love moderating it and it's a great way to wrap up the con. By that point, I can't so much as keep shoes on while I moderate, I'm so wrecked, but I wouldn't give it up for the world. We finished up with my traditional pizza trip to Rusted Sun in Salt Lake, then I got roped into drinks at a bar with a bunch of people I didn't know. Which turned out to be great and wild at the same time.

And now we hit that point in the blog where I put my money where my mouth with, and honestly tell you what things are really like, behind the scenes, for the author.

This Comic Con was rough for me. Two days before, my mother had orthopedic surgery on her skull. See, seven or eight years ago, had breast cancer which moved to the thyroid (technically the cancer is just in remission, I guess). One of the drugs they gave her is an estrogen blocker known for bone degeneration and necrosis in the jaw and head area. This disintegrated the bones above the teeth in the front of her mouth and caused rampant infection that's persisted for a year or more. They needed to take out the infected bone and perform a cadaver bone graft. My mother is retired and disabled and lives with me. I've had major bone reconstruction surgery on my hand (the most excruciating thing I've ever experienced) and I've lived through watching someone recover from something half that painful. I can say without hesitation that I'd rather go through the surgery again than watch the other, much less go through it with my mother.

But we don't really get to choose when it's time to be an adult or a professional. Right up until the morning of the con, I thought I would have to cancel. The infection, although the bone had been removed, seemed to have released into her system in general and she had a fever that spiked the day before. It hit its peak about 1 am the morning of Comic Con, but had broken by dawn. So with neighbors to look out for her and her health in good order for the first time since the surgery, I left cautiously for Salt Lake. (Also, my assistant made it clear that she'd rush to my house in the case of an emergency, and she wasn't heading to the con until later in the day, so I had that safety net).

I sometimes think I do better at these public performances the more messed up things are in my personal life. I'm pretty sure only my assistant is the only one who knew just how bad things were during the convention (more than she suspected, of course, since the surgery wasn't a secret, nor was the fever). But at this point, I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing these things, and it just gives me more energy to pour into my panels and fan interactions. Not everyone can do this. It's my personal flavor of dysfunction. Other people get social anxiety. I pour my energy into entertaining others while quietly panicking about how my mother might be at home, in agony, lying to me about whether or not the pain pills are really working. It doesn't help that is she was lying she'd just as successfully lied to me to my face that morning, and being at home wouldn't help. Or that she didn't get out of bed all day that day anyway, and my presence in the house wouldn't have done much good. The Catholic guilt runs strong in this one.

But sometimes there's nothing you can do but be helpless and keep working in spite of it. Sometimes you have to be spectacularly charming and handsome and sexy and talented even when you're screaming inside. Sometimes you have to glad-hand when you don't think you can do another minute. Now, you have to know your limits, but that was all within my limits, and so I pushed forward. My limits involve sleep and health and not editing during a con or else I'll get pneumonia. They don't involve backing down from the social. Other people can push themselves physically much farther than I can, but they'll collapse under social pressures that I thrive under.

Know your limits. Drive yourself. Don't stop. It's a lie that pain always makes us stronger.

But it doesn't go away just because we stop, either.

Expectations vs Reality

My first draft of book 6 started with a problem. It's easy to fix, since the Narrator can just impart the necessary information, but I thought I'd talk about these issues in general. It's expectation vs. reality. In this case, it comes from the fact that so far, many of my DbC novels are actually named after a subplot, a running joke, or a theme. They aren't actually named for the books primary plot. For instance, DbC 2 is subtitled The Wrath of Con. The game occurring during this book takes place during a convention, and the idea of a convention keeps coming up over and over throughout the book, but the book is in no way about conventions. In the case of book 6, the book is named after the alias of a character and his plot, which doesn't appear until chapter 13. However you learned the alias and the goal of his plan in the last book, so all I really need to do is remind (or inform) the reader of those facts in the first chapter or two. This way, the reader will know they are waiting for the plan to emerge instead of staring at the title in puzzlement, and then reading a chapter, then checking the title, shrugging, and reading another chapter, etc.

Dan Wells ran into a similar issue with I Am Not a Serial Killer. The fact that the book had a supernatural element isn't obvious right away, and readers had trouble with the sudden change in tone when the supernatural aspects emerged later. Dan solved it just as easily as I am in DbC 6. He had the first person narrator tell you about the supernatural aspect early on, even though his character didn't know yet. Since it was a 1st person narrator speaking in the past tense, the reader just assumes the narrator is relating the story after he discovered the truth.

Other expectations take more work (and it also depends on how you define expectation). We know from the Treason of Isengard that Tolkien knew very early in the writing process that Frodo wouldn't be able to throw the ring into the Crack of Doom, and Tolkien lays the groundwork for this from the beginning. Bilbo has difficulty giving up the ring, of course, but Frodo actually fails to throw the ring into a completely mundane fireplace at the beginning of the book. Right there, he sets out the expectation, if subconsciously. If Frodo can't throw the ring into a fire that can't hurt it, how is he going to must the will to actually destroy it at the end? And of course, we have the betrayal of Boromir, the growing power of the ring, and many other forms of foreshadowing throughout the book.

Another technique you'll see a lot, especially in movies and TV, is using the edits to direct the viewer's attention to a hidden bad guy. Pay attention, upon rewatching a mystery or a story with a hidden foe, and see how many times the main characters refer to the unknown bad guy, and then the show cuts immediately to the actual villain. You don't usually notice this, but it's slowly laying the groundwork in your brain so that when the villain is revealed, the reveal seems more inevitable.

Another example comes from a review of the original Ravenloft adventure in Dragon Magazine. While I didn't agree with the review, this one point stuck with me as a writer ever since. The reviewer criticized the challenges and traps of the adventure, saying that they drew attention away from the primary antagonist rather than pulling attention back to him and underscoring his menace. Writing Excuses had similar advice last weeks with subplots, advising against subplots that distracted from the primary plot as opposed to enriching the overall story. In the case of the mostly unseen antagonist, try to use foes, challenges, and threats who's nature resonates with the villain. Vampire stories might have stories where darkness, loss of control, and weakness are constant themes and challenges, even when the big bad guy isn't actually in the picture.

The hard part can be identifying these expectations.  Possibly the easiest solution is just to have someone, not you, read the book and tell you what they see. Obviously, my Writers' Group told me that the title of the new book was strange enough that not knowing its relevance distracted them from the story. Howard Tayler will often have us read the first part of a Schlock book and ask us what promises he's made, just to see if he's missed any.

This issue of expectation, and fulfilling your promises, is critical to professional writing. It's one of the easiest things to get wrong, and when you don't nail it, it leaves the work feeling hollow and incomplete. This is slightly next level stuff here, but it's a next level you must hit if you're ever to write professionally.

Jerry Pournelle

We stood in a long line at the banquet for the academic symposium Life, the Universe, and Everything. Howard Tayler, Sandra Tayler, Jerry Pournelle, and myself. We were all sitting at the same table, probably with members of the con committee. Suddenly Jerry bellows at the top of his lungs, "Donner, party of 16!" Long pause. Then, "Donner, party of 15!" This was the same symposium where he sat on a panel with Howard about tighter, crunchier writing and after everyone else had introduced themselves, Howard explained that he had to fit all of his dialog into three panels. Jerry bellowed, "Dammit, boy, you're the only qualified to be here, I get paid by the word!"

Jerry Pournelle passed away Friday. He reputedly returned from DragonCon under the weather and whatever caused it, the sickness claimed him quickly. I've often felt like con crud was going to kill me. I don't find that joke funny any longer.

Jerry came across bigger than life. He held the distinction, as far as we can tell, of being the first person to write a novel on a computer. He played every line for the balconies. If you've ever seen the play, Aspects of Love, the eulogy from that show best sums up Jerry, for he had a thirst and lust for living. The man was too big to be contained by something as fragile as a physical form. As ephemeral as simple humanity. Jerry burned like the stars his novels explored. Timeless. Unstoppable. Unquenchable. Did you know that nuclear fusion is actually the cooling, mitigating factor of a star? Without fusion to keep the gravitic heating of a star to a mere ceiling of 200,000,000 degrees, it would continue heating to theoretical infinity. Imagine Jerry without that limiter.

I've always imagined that limiter was his wife, Roberta. Roberta is one of the sweetest, gentlest human beings I've ever met. I didn't meet Jerry at LTUE. I met him a couple years before, at Writers of the Future. During the barbeque, Jerry sat at the table with the other judges. It was an opportunity for the pros to catch up with one another. Roberta, on the other hand, found the shyest contest winner at the banquet, the person who simply would not approach one of the pros under any circumstances, cornered them and made them talk about their work for 15 minutes. Then she found the next shyest winner and cornered them. She did that the entire time. I'm not the shyest anything, so I just sort of orbited and observed, but at that moment, I decided that while I acted, innately, almost exactly like Jerry, I wanted to grow up to be just like Roberta. I've strived to be more like her at every convention since.

I talk about Roberta because I've lost a lot of people in my life. I know that when people die, we talk about the late person, and we seem to think that the tragedy is their loss. And it is, but that is an inherently selfish way of thinking. Losing Jerry hurts because I've lost Jerry. He won't be in my life anymore. I won't see him at conventions. I won't read any more of his books. I won't hear him on This Week in Tech. But that's really all about me.

The real tragedy is the effect on his family. I don't think I've met his son, but I've met Roberta. I actually don't know her current status, and I can't find a reference to her more current than ten years old. But in my mind, she's the avatar of all the people who grieve for the loss of this man. He's passed from their lives and he's left a loud, large, and boisterous hole in his passing. It will not heal cleanly. It will not be filled easily. It will never quite feel right ever again. They might feel okay again, but they will never feel the same.

But somewhere, bar con is just starting up, and Jerry is just sitting down, ordering a drink, and waiting for the rest of them to join him.

Can you hear him? "Pournelle, party of 1!"

Long pause.

He's patient. Take your time.

Your Second Published Novel Part (I've Lost Count)

Now that Game of Thrones is over, and I'm no longer afraid that if I don't blog about it, I'll be stabbed in the back every time I go to the salon for a hair cut, it's back to the novel-writing grind. And by grind, I mean that I have to continue to produce words, as I always do, but otherwise I'm trying to finish Horizon Zero Dawn before I pick up any major projects. Then I start the last major edit of DbC 4 and turn it in.

In the meantime, I signed the contract for DbC 3. Also, when I say "before I pick up any major projects" I received a dirty ARC for DbC 2: The Wrath of Con. A dirty ARC is an Advanced Readers Copy. Essentially, my job is to re-read the entire thing and try to find typos. My mind is putty at this point, but even though my confidence in my proofreading is pretty low, I found a fair amount of typos while reading the audiobook. One of the best proofing techniques, after all, is to read aloud. I noted all the ones I found at the time, so I've been integrating those on my proofread. I should finish my re-read Thursday night. A good thing, too, because I promised I'd be done by the end of the week.

In other news, I've started DbC 6. Our writers' group took a small break for con season and the Writing Excuses Cruise. We start meeting again next week. So I'll be turning in my first chapters then. With the end of that book, I'll have two chapters of DbC books. I'm not sure what I'll do at that point. I don't think I'll stop writing them, but I MIGHT start alternating with other books. We'll see.

Anyway, that updates you on general writing business. Back to your normally scheduled week.

Winter Has Come and Gone

Spoilers for Game of Thrones season finale to follow.

So I got a hair cut tonight (I write these in advance of posting). A guy at my salon insists that I talk to him about Game of Thrones, much to the chagrin of the stylist. I'll admit that after his reading my Star Wars deconstructions and talking to me about GoT, he insisted that I start these posts. So last night we spoke of this episode (it's why this one is a day late). He found it boring. I found it fairly intense and riveting. He found Dunkirk the same way while I found Dunkirk intense. So some of that might just be our taste in shows. But I've been thinking about his criticisms, and I believe he has a point. Many elements of this season finale have a touch of the "too little, too late." Many others rely on screen techniques to sell them that don't hold up under real scrutiny. For instance, they bank a great deal on us feeling tension over the meeting between Tyrion and Cersei, but as my friend at the salon pointed out, there was no chance that Cersei would kill Tyrion in that meeting. Tyrion was the only safety valve on Dany at that point. If Tyrion dies, Dany burns King's Landing to the ground, and whether Cersei knows Tyrion's role at that point, she has to know the chance or retribution for killing Dany's Hand. The only fear we should have during that meeting is that Cersei goes crazy, Dany releases her inner dragon on the Lannisters once and for all, Jon and Dany have to fight the White Walkers without Cersei's armies, because it's not like there's a real risk of her armies hurting them much once that safety gets taken off the dragon cannon. Another little bait and switch revolves around the Arya/Sansa plot. We never see them plot together, but we see plenty of scenes where they are supposedly alone where they seem to be enemies. That whole reveal is based on the fact that we want it to be true so badly that we won't dig too deeply into it. (The movie The Sting did the same thing. You'll see a scene and then when you find out later that the whole thing was a con, you'll be like, wait...who were they playing that scene for? The audience?)

Anyway, let's look at the characters.

The Hound and the Mountain - I wonder if the Hound can actually kill his brother. I hope he can. I'd love to see it. It's been a long time coming. Anyway, I'm referring to the theory that the Mountain is mostly undead. I believe that's just a theory and not something widely known. The skin we see through that helmet doesn't look entirely...natural.

Arya and Sansa - Another buddy theorized Friday night that they were working together. I pointed out that Arya was acting completely consistantly with how much she hated Sansa in Season 1. My issues with storytelling aside, I've never been so glad to be wrong. Normally, I'd be suspicisious. It's his job to QC copies of the digital file for a major company, but he doesn't do that until Saturday, so he doesn't have to bite back spoilers until I see him Saturday night. Anyway, I might have started singing Sisters Are Doing it For Themselves at that point.

Littlefinger - Good riddance. Good God, how much of the evil in this show has actually sprung from him. Let's see. 1) He killed Jon Aryn. 2) He pinned the assassination attempt of Bran on Tyrion, essentially starting the war between the Starks and the Lanisters. 3) He double-crossed Ned, leading to his death. 4) He wed Tyrell to Joffrey, giving the Lanisters the power to win the Battle of Blackwater 5) He killed Joffrey (and in the end no one ever did figure out his part in it, although that might have been a public service) 6) He married and killed Lysa becoming Lord of the Vale 7) He (presumably) almost succeeded in putting a wedge between Arya and Sansa. 

Watching him die was very satisfying. The only thing that wasn't satisfying about it was that Sansa passed sentence and Arya executed it, in direct contravention of their father's first rule of kingship. But you could argue the sisters were operating as a single person in that scene and therefore they get a pass.

Euron and Theon - Euron is still a dick. If anyone doubted it before, we know it now. Theon seems to be, in defiance of all logic, attempting to perform a bonified medical miracle and grow a pair. As much as he's done to earn our hatred (I'm rewatching his heinous acts of season two right now), I wish him well. I hate Euron that much, and I like Theon's sister.

Bronn and that One Kid Who's Name I Can't Bother To Look Up - They got out of that meeting quick, didn't they? Survival instinct. That's what that is.

Sam and Bran - Not much there, although was that the first time we actually officially learned Jon's real name? Anyway. All is confirmed, just in time for some hot Aunt on Nephew sex.

Cersei and Jaime - My coworker reminded me Monday that it's been prophecized that Cersei would be killed by one of her brothers. I'm guessing it Jaime at this point that would certainly be the better poetic choice. I've been saying all season that he'd never do that, but now I see it's probably overdue. They probably drew that out too long. Anyway, I'll be interested to see where he lands next season.

Jon and Dany - It's great to see that getting yourself killed for your morals is a dominant genetic trait in the male Stark line (he's still a Stark, don't forget, just by Ned's sister). Jon barely got out of this episode alive. Of course, he was rewarded at the end with sex with his aunt. I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about that. I mean, they're Targaryens, so...yay?

The Night King and the Undead Dragon - I thought the undead dragon would breath ice. Evidently in breath blue-white fire. So building that wall out of ice turns out to have been a bad idea. Hindsight.

Beyond the Wall

Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 6 follow.

I desperately wanted to title this blog post, "Help, My Show has Jumped the Zombie Polar Bear." But I thought that was too spoilery for the title.

So. Most of this episode was a bunch of dudes wandering the white wastes talking about dude stuff while being particularly masculine and also pontificating on the nature of life and death and the meaning of heroism. So basically my typical Friday night, but with slightly fewer Zombie Polar Bears. And slightly more flaming swords, because modern smoke detectors are hella annoying, yo.

So. Tyrion. Nice of him to take that shot about Jon being too "small" for Dany in stride. Also good for him for keeping on task with the whole succession thing, even in light of her getting all up in his grill about him losing their first two allies. It's a dark time for Tyrion right now. It would be easy just to fold up like a potato bug. Good that he's still plugging away.

Tormund and the Hound - Oh good God. I love them. I want them to kiss already. These two need to star in a buddy movie spin off right now. Get on that HBO. You can send the check to my PayPal account.

Jorah - I really wanted him to take his sword back. I might have father issues. Still, I'm ready to see him do something other than brood and wander around wrapped in tragedy.

Arya and Little Finger - Little Finger seems to be hell bent on driving a wedge between the sisters, which is a difficult job considering the size of the wedge that's already there.  At this point, I think he's just sitting back and watching the fireworks. "Oh, she has a chest full of faces. How sweet."

Sansa and Brienne - There's a Star Trek flight simulator here in Pleasant Grove, UT. During one of the missions, I was manning damage control. I remember the computer telling us that the Romulan ship was scanning the bridge and put forth the supposition that it was trying to zero in on the Captain with the intention of beaming him off while our shields were down. I'll always remember because the next bit happened without a word or a look. Gary Llewelyn, the Captain, stood up and left the captain's chair without skipping a beat and his brother Scott, the head of security, moved over and sat down in said chair, pantomiming holding two phasers. When Cersei sent an invite to Sansa to come to Kings Landing and Sansa decided to send Brienne instead, it reminded me of that moment, but with more complaining on Brienne's part. (In Brienne's defense, that would put her many many miles out of position for defending Sansa.)

Jon and Dany - That last battle was something. The loss of a dragon to the other side. The loss and then reclamation of Jon. Jon vowing to bend knee to Dany. Dany and Jon obviously making full doe eyes at one another at the end. Big, big setup for the last, near movie-length episode of the season.

So stay tuned.

Ouch! I Sprained My Connective Tissue

Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 5 follow.

This episode wasn't as earth-shattering as the last two. Not surprising. There has been a lot of big movement of late and they really needed to reposition all their little plot elements before they could move them again. So. This episode felt like a whole lot of setup.

So. Let's check in with people.

Bron - So, Bron saved Jaimie. Quite the little move there if he wants that castle. Mouthing off to Jaimie after, maybe not so much, but I think Jaimie will deal with it well. When you're as secure in your skill and masculinity as Jaimie is, you can handle a little ribbing.

Sam's Dad and Brother - Ashes to ashes...

Dany and Jon - Well. It seems Dany likes making eyes at guys who like to pet her dragon. That isn't a euphemism. The thing is, shouldn't she be worried that the dragon's acceptance makes Jon, you know, related to her? But then again, considering her family history, maybe that's a turn on.

Jorah - Way to show up at the wrong time, dude. Kill joy. Glad to see you're back, though.

Bran - Do you think Bran is so calm about his urgency to tell Jon he's related to Dany because Bran's the Three-Eyed Raven and he just doesn't feel emotion anymore, or because he's the Three-Eyed Raven and he already knows whether he gets the news to him before the wedding?

Tyrion and The Onion Knight - It was fun watching them break into King's Landing to meet up with Jaimie. "Last Time I was here I killed my father with a crossbow." "Last time I was here you killed my son with wildfire." Good times.

Jaime and Sis - There's a baby coming? I heard one person suggest there isn't a baby and that's a manipulation ploy, but she seems too comfortable in her power at this point to need to need to resort to such a thing. When has Jaimie shown any hesitation to follow her? Really? But she seems to have shut him down on Tyrion's white walker plan. Also, her spies are pretty good. So, golf clap for that.

Arya and Sansa - Sansa is still badass as queen. Arya hasn't started respecting Sansa any more in the time she's been away. And it looks like Littlefinger is back to his old tricks, giving Arya one of Sansa's old coercion notes from Season 1. It's a plot worthy of Richard III. Or Three's Company.

Gendry? Crap, we're pulling out the oldies on this one, huh? Neat. We'll have to see where that one goes. Baratheon's bastard, risen again.

Sam and Gilly - Did you like the scene where Sam totally fails to get that Gilly is probably reading a book talking about Jon's birth? And of course, he throws a little fit about not doing important work. So it looks like he's leaving the Maesters. Seizing his destiny and all that.

I think that's all the major stuff.  A lot of little stuff happened too, and I'm not sure what's important yet. Good hell, but I was a little exhausted trying to get it all. For all that nothing happened it this episode, there was just so damn much nothing, it was hard to track it all.

Daenerys Strikes Back

Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 4 to follow.

Well. Things ended on a pretty bleak footing last week, and if storytelling has told us anything, it's that we need something of a bounce back this week. So, let's see where everything stands after episode 4.

Sansa and Bran. Not a whole lot of movement on these two. It was nice to see Sansa reunite with her sister. Other than that, her plot didn't move forward. Bran got a wheelchair. So, yay. Also, we seem to be retconning the time after Bran became the three-eyed raven where he kept acting like Bran. I didn't imagine that, right? This whole new attitude is a pretty new development this season, right? Anyway, Bran leads us to:

Littlefinger. Holy crap that man is cold. Giving Bran the dagger that someone (probably Joffrey?) used to try to kill him. For a long time, I thought Littlefinger was behind the assassination, but I believe he was out of position for that. Anyway, it's good Bran calls him out on it with his "Chaos is a ladder" quote. The putz.

Jon Snow. Has his dragon glass mine about to start. They play another scene with his aunt full of implied promises and subtext, only to end with her demanding he bend a knee again. Which, all right, was pretty cool. I half expected that scene to end with the famous lines from Cheers, though: "Are you as turned on as I am?" "More!"

Tyrion. Not his best day. I suggested maybe he's not the best strategist (although in fairness, some of his problems rise from the fact that the writers don't know how to read their own maps). This week Dany suggests it too. The Imp is not in great standing. He tries to talk her out of taking her dragons against the Red Keep and she turns to Jon Snow for advice. The advice Jon gives is really pretty good, and he backs Tyrion.

Arya and Brienne. Practicing. With swords. And awesomeness. "I promise not to cut you." I didn't know I was waiting for this scene until I got it. I just needed this scene so much. I made my coworker hold me while I wept with joy. It wasn't creepy. I promise. I won't cut you.

Daenerys. Well, it seems Dany decided to split the difference. Jon and Tyrion both advised her against melting castles, so she attacks the army on the move. Presumably, that makes it easier to avoid deaths to the luggage and camp followers, so there are only military deaths. Still, Bron gets his licks in...

Bron. Draws first dragon blood in Westeros, even if he needed to lose his gold doing it. With that ballista/crossbow thing. That should be worth a castle, right?

Jamie. Lancing for Dany and the dragon at the end. Almost killed in dragon fire. Someone saved him. I've asked three people and no one figure out who. I guess we'll need to wait until next week...

Big Things Afoot at Casterly Rock

Spoilers coming. For Season 7 Episode 3 of Game of Thrones.

This post is a little late. I've been sick and I'm writing this in the middle of the night after a bit of a nap. So. Let's look at how things stand at the end of this episode.

Wow. It really was a shit storm, wasn't it? Dany had two allies in this damned war. We lost one during last week's episode, and this week... wow. Maybe Tyrion isn't quite the mastermind he thinks he is, huh?

Let's take it one character at a time.

Theon. Well, let's get this one out of the way. He didn't drown. So. That's that. Who's next?

Euron? Well this guy's a prig, isn't he? At least Yara's alive, as seen in the obligatory street mob scene. And Euron gives a nice speech full of creepy innuendo (and then later some creepy locker room talk with Jaimie). Cersei handles the whole thing well. She'll marry him...right after the war is done. I mean, what are the odds of both of them surviving to the end, huh?

Cersei. Well, she's on top of the world this episode, huh? First, she gets the woman who killed her daughter. Then she gets to give an epic, bond villain like speech in the dungeon, followed by a kiss of death like she's Al Pachino. "You broke my heart, Tyrene. You broke my heart." Then she gets to have sex with her brother and who cares who knows (not my thing, but hey). Basically, everything's coming up Cersei.

Dany and Jon. Well. I asked, I think in a comment in last week's blog, if Jon and Dany were going to get married before or after he realizes she's his aunt. I'm voting after. (In fairness, that question was originally asked by my friend Gary, but man, this episode drives it home). Jon basically blows his first meeting with her, only to be saved by Tyrion. On their second meeting, she at least agrees to give him Dragon Glass, if not future romantic doe eyes. So. You know. There's that.

Sam. Well Sam is a healing savant maybe? Or just good at following instructions? And now he has to copy a big bunch of manuscripts? What do you want to bet they hold something plot critical? (H/T to my coworker Brianne)

Who's left? Oh right. Jaimie and Tyrion. Because Tyrion seems to be pulling off a great plan. Until we realize that in taking Casterly Rock, he's left the Reach completely unguarded. (Where's the Tyrell army? Just in transit maybe?). So now Dany has lost both her allies. She better queue those doe eyes up. Jon is all she's got. Still that loss allowed for the beautiful final scene between Jaimie and Olenna Tyrell (Oh crap, I just realized that's Dianna Rigg). So. Now Jaimie knows his brother didn't kill his son. I've been waiting a long time for that one too. I don't think it will matter much to Cersei, but it might to Jaimie. We'll see.

So, at the end. The Lannisters 2, Jon Snow 1, Dany 0. The unsullied army is out of position and without a navy. It will have to figure out a way to feed itself it it's to so much as survive, much less move. Dany has lost all of her allies. There is, however, a Tyrell army in the wind somewhere, presumably between the Reach and Kings Landing.

Can't wait for next week.