My Writing Process Blog Chain

I was tagged into this by Beth Matthews, who asked me to do it in March (Sorry, Beth, I forgot!) and more recently by Alex Haist.  Beth and Alex were my suite-mates at Viable Paradise, and they became friends very, very quickly.  So I’ll play along.


I haven’t got a clue what the elevator pitch would be.  It was originally “The Irish Troubles in Space,” but the story has morphed along the way.   My original working title was Things Fall Apart, which was to be followed by The Blood-Dimmed Tide and, hopefully, the concluding volume, Mere Anarchy.  These titles seemed apt considering that the genesis of the tale is the Irish struggle for independence, and my love of Yeats inspired much of it.  But then I recalled Achebe’s book, and now I just call it The Remembrance War, Book 1. Or, more often, “The damn book.”


Unlike most Space Opera, humans aren’t the dominant species in my story.  In fact, they’re just the opposite.  They are, rather, a minority, treated as second-class citizens, strictly controlled by the aliens who rescued them from a failed colony.  In part, the series is about how humanity reclaims its pride; book 1 is about how that process–and the Remembrance War–begins.  It’s also, though, a book about how one man gives up running from his past and rebuilds for himself a family, and it’s also a book about the lies we disguise as history and tell our children.

This all came about because I had this idea of a story in which somebody stole the Earth from humanity.  And I was bored one night in a class on Modern Irish Literature, and then there was a moment of Irish lit in my sci-fi/sci-fi in my Irish lit, and BAM! the story coalesced into one in which the history of humanity has a seriously huge lie built right into it.  And from that the rest of the story emerged.


There are several levels to this question.  Let’s go through them all.

I write novels.  I have written, in my life, maybe ten short pieces, and most of them were rather long–easily in the novelette range or higher.  I don’t seem to be able to write less than 10,000 word stories.  My VP Thursday story was 4700 words, and when I took it home to rewrite it based on feedback I got on it, it grew to 8700 words.  I tried to find places to cut, but I couldn’t find much.   The story has now been rejected from three markets.  I should probably look at it again (I haven’t since November), but I’m not going to for a while yet.  I’m too busy writing the Damned Book.  And it’s less painful. Mostly, anyway.

I write novels because I like longer-form storytelling.  Nothing against short stories; I like to read them just fine.  But I don’t seem to be able to write them, and even when I read stories I like, I often find myself thinking “Wait, that’s IT?”

I write space opera because… well, because space opera is my first love. I grew up on Star Trek reruns, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Battlestar Galactica (which still has a place in my heart even though I know now how bad it was).  I grew up reading Harry Harrison, The Uplift series, the Ship who Sang, and of course Asimov’s Foundation series.  I also read fantasy, of course, but Interstellar Empires and wars that rage over galaxies have always appealed to me more than magic swords and elves, even though I do love those, too.  In adulthood I read Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy, the Honor Harrington books, and now I’m devouring the Mageworlds books.

And I tend to write Orphans, or at least people who are trying to build lives and families for themselves.  I do this because I’m an orphan.  I lost my parents when very young, and my adopted parents weren’t the best one could hope for; I was disowned by them (and my adopted siblings).  So a lot of my work is about orphans and the issues they often face.


I am a minimal outliner.  I tend to ruminate on a story idea for some time, putting pieces together, researching and thinking and when the story is “ready,” then I start outlining.  I do a basic plot arc: Beginning, Middle, and End.  Then I fill in scenes and ideas along the arc.

Next, I create a Scrivener project, and for each scene, I put a basic one-line description of what happens there.  I got this idea from Jason M. Hough.  It allows me to remember what happens, but doesn’t straitjacket me.  It allows spontaneous changes, which has been very helpful since I started on this book.  Some of my favorite plot points have been because, in the middle of writing a scene, an idea occurred to me and I let it happen.

Every time I sit to write, I reread what I wrote last, and make any adjustments I feel like.  Sometimes I just put a comment in the Scrivener project.  I’ll deal with those later.

That’s the first draft.  On the second pass, I tighten the language and story logic, deal with those comments, and make any changes I think are necessary.


If you want to do it, by all means do so, and please link back to this post.  I’d particularly like to see it done by Nadya Duke.

The Power of Diverse Authors and Stories

When I first started reading Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, I commented to a friend that I didn’t like the “linguistic trick” of using “she” for characters the narrator KNEW were male.  The ambiguous gender of the narrator didn’t bother me. And the story was amazingly good, so I stuck with it.

As I continued to read, I started thinking about why the pronoun issue bothered me, and I came to realize that what I was feeling was probably the same thing women feel when they encounter words like “mankind” or the use of “he” in most literature, though of course I could close the book and not see that anymore.  This, to me, was an important revelation.  I’ve always sort of rankled when people got pissy about words like “mankind,” because to me it’s always been obvious that this means ALL humans, not just men.  It’s right there in the definition, right?  But when I really thought about it, I saw how privileged that was.  As a male, I can say “Mankind means ALL people, not just men! Everyone knows women are in it, too!” and mean it–precisely because I’m male.  It doesn’t take anything from me.  And it occurred to me that if someone said “We don’t need to SHOW black people in the future, everyone knows they’re there,” I would think that person was a complete fucking idiot, and a racist dickbag, too.  And then I had to face that even I, a supposed feminist, have some sexist ideas I needed to examine more.

Having realized all this about halfway into the novel, something snapped, and it didn’t bother me anymore.  I’m not stupid enough to say that that’s it, I’m not full of sexist ideas anymore.  But I am willing to say that I won’t be casually dismissing anyone who says “That was maybe sexist,” or ignore my own privilege.  I’ve always been a staunch ally of women and People of Color, but I think sometimes I forgot that meant I had to examine my own attitudes as seriously as I looked at the attitudes of others, and that sexism doesn’t always mean “thinks women belong in the kitchen.”

This is, I believe, why we need diverse books, written by and about diverse people.  Literature, and more specifically stories, have a way of getting past our defenses, the walls we build between us and the Other.  Stories can force us to confront, even gently, our own views of the universe, our own distorted ways of thinking, better than a thousand arguments from others.

We all see the world from our own particular window, and none of us have exactly the same window.  Mine shows me how the world looks from a relatively privileged place.  But mine is not the same as the window of my friend Mike, who fled Cambodia at five years old, whose last sight of his grandfather’s home in Pnomh Penh was as it was hit by a mortar shell, and who has had to learn to fit in to white American culture.   And my window is not the same as my sister’s.  And it isn’t the same as my friend Brian, who has to deal with racism and homophobia both.

We need stories from authors from all over the world, from every race, from every group and social class, marginalized or not, to show us the view from their window.  Because only by combining our views can we widen them.


The Nebula Award Weekend: Day 1

So, I’m here at the Nebula weekend.  It’s weird, and frankly I’m not sure I’ll ever entirely get used to talking to people I’ve been reading for years–Tad Williams said hello and I damn near lost the power to speak for a minute.

Hell, part of me gets all squee-y at writers whom I haven’t been reading for years.  Case in point: sitting down in a panel on book research today, I looked up as someone came in and nodded at me in passing.  I looked at her name tag and realized it was Naomi Kritzer, whose Sea Stead stories I’ve been enjoying for months in F&SF magazine.  I damned near squeed.

I held back from being stupid at Steve Gould and Laura Mixon, and merely nodded to them as I passed (they seemed busy); I’m not even sure they saw me.  Meh. There’ll be time to say hello tomorrow.

On the other hand, I am kind of annoyed with myself.  A lot of these people are very friendly, and I’d like to take advantage of that–but I am SO VERY BAD at taking the first step to talking to people.  If they talk to me, I can jump in.  But I often have major difficulty in just starting a conversation.  It’s a skill I never learned.  It makes me really appreciate Steve Brust, at VP, just saying “Hi!  I’m Steve!” when I walked up the stairs.

Speaking of tomorrow, I’m attending a panel on Diversity in SF.  That will likely be a “preach to the choir” hour, but the only other offering is one on estate planning, and I haven’t even published one story yet, let alone a bunch of novels, so meh.  Another I’ll be attending is a conversation with book editors, including Beth Meacham of Tor Books.  Then a memoriam for those writers who’ve died this year (again, the other options for that hour aren’t really for me), then a discussion on how emerging science might change science fiction, and then I haven’t decided on the last panel: either “Keeping the Science in Science Fiction” or “Front Line Forensics: Tales of a Real CSI.”  Then it’s some socializing, then the awards ceremony, then to bed, wake up, and go home.

On Sunday afternoon, I’m taking my daughter to her first grownup choral concert.  Her mom is performing, but Tegan’s only been to the children’s concerts before, and I think she’s old enough to handle it now.

And now, I am going to get back to work on the writing.

Still here, just busy

So, yeah.  I’m still here, and I’m still writing.  But I’m also hip-deep in the End of the Year nonsense.  I’m getting my 9th graders through Night, teaching units on Media Bias to my 10th graders, and grading essays for my departing Seniors.  It all has to be done under very tight deadlines in which there is literally no wiggle room.

I’m still writing between 200 and 800 words a night.  Weekends lately have been non-writing time, but I hope to write more when school is out for the summer.

I am quite tired.  I fall asleep within moments of going to bed; and I am a lifelong insomniac.

My daughter is not sleeping well; she’s going to bed at 7, but not falling asleep until 9 or later.  This is not helping my nerves or writing ability.