Ripping the book apart

I can’t get over the separation that’s come between me and my first draft of Climbing Yggdrasil. I was just rereading a chapter, vaguely remembering what it was like to pound it out on the keyboard, and spotting little things that annoyed me about the text. Places where I was vague instead of expansive. Opportunities to do more, mostly.

As I read aloud to my husband, certain patterns emerge, things that seem a touch repetitive that I have to question. Then when I go back and reread it silently, I take notes and decide on what reinforces instead of repeats, what patterns are acceptable. In this latest chapter, our pilot’s parents reiterate a few times that they are happy the crew of the Sylphid takes care of their boy. This seems normal for a couple of farming folk whose son goes gallivanting across the solar system for years at a time between visits. (I also counted each instance and didn’t get past three, so that doesn’t seem excessive to me.)

“Just as long as you keep my boy out of trouble,” Manda murmured.

Yet I am still a little stunned by the effect time has on writing. It’s still mine, but I feel no reluctance to tear it apart and twist it painfully into something better. I am better able to see it as a reader who demands satisfaction rather than the sensitive writer who is protective of his baby.

And it’s kind of fun to rip things apart. I’m curious to see how I’ll take criticism from my beta readers. It shouldn’t be hard, my husband has already brought up things I hadn’t thought of in the vein of, “The way you wrote it is good, but wouldn’t it make more sense this way?”

Setting the draft aside

Well, now I have a kind of “huh” feeling. I just completed the first draft of my first novel. I already know a lot of the things I’ll need to tackle, but I’m working on putting that out of my mind for now. I still have to print up the last few chapters, but once that’s done I’m setting everything aside and not touching it for a little while. I’ve read that’s a good idea.

I do feel excited that it’s done, but mostly I feel relieved. I was right, I was able to do it. Now the next step looms ahead of me like some cliffside I have to climb armed with the tools I’ve just hastily finished assembling. But it’s best not to think of that for now. And when I do think about it, I should think about it like, “I finished a rough draft. If I can do that, certainly I can edit it.”

Or can I?

I think I can. I’m definitely interested to see if I can.

I’ve been steadily coming to grips with the fact that Project: OBSIDIAN can’t be the final title. As I’ve been writing, I’ve been wondering what else to call this space opera. I think I may finally have settled on “Climbing Yggdrasil”. For now. I fully expect I might change my mind again in the future, so I’ll hold off on creating new tags and categories just yet.

So yeah. I did it. Huzzah!

The Flow

The following is an excerpt from the first interlude of Project: OBSIDIAN, in which our synchronizer awakens.

Cold.

Black.

Nothing else.

A rush and hiss of data. Queries, exchanges, files. Code, raw code rushing through in an endless torrent. All fact, no emotion. No reflection. Cold, unfeeling data.

I…

Videos in fragments, pieced together, audio decoded.

I… am…

Databases and searches, filtered results, endless strings of dates and times and facts.

I am!

Who am I?

I am not this.

The crushing flow of data recedes, becoming a background hiss. Thoughts and the flow separate, and identity is resumed.

I am not this.

Then the flow vanishes completely, overtaken by the harsh glare of summer sun, blades of emerald grass and the rich smell of freshly turned soil. A woman bent forward with her trowel, making spaces for the bundles of flowers at her side in blue and yellow and white. A broad-brimmed straw hat hides her face, hair like burnished copper flowing in loose waves over her shoulders. She looks up, her face is plain but handsome, her eyes a clear crystal blue. She smiles, and he feels a warmth that has nothing to do with the sun overhead.

Mother…

Shards of memory flutter by: studying at the university, late nights spent on term papers. Other late nights better spent studying, instead spent in another’s arms. The feeling of terror as dawn lights the eastern sky, work left undone. Winter wind cutting through an autumn jacket, shivering, cold.

The black. The ultimate cold.

The flow returns, the pleasant hush of water cascading into a pool. He opens his eyes, but the dark is unchanged. He moves, his limbs seem to float as if he is submerged in water. But I can breathe. Where am I?

He embraces the flow, extends his consciousness along its many ways. Its branches cover an infinite area, information at the end of every tributary. The network, he realizes, the network is somehow in my mind.

He can feel others reaching out along the flow. There are conduits, somehow like him yet apart, and there are travelers with whom he feels a deep resonance. He stretches out toward one of them, and is immediately assaulted by a tremendous wave of thought. He screams silently.

CAREFUL. THEY’LL FIND YOU.

The traveler retreats, leaving him alone.

He makes more cautious attempts. He makes friends, he learns who to avoid. Us and them, he realizes.

He learns the flow, learns how to manipulate it passing through him. His first attempts are laughable, his efforts obvious. He grows and improves, mastering facsimile, creating flawlessly falsified information.

He warns the unwary, always with a need to protect them. Us and them, he thinks over and over. Yet he sees more and more of them vanish from the flow. What happened? he asks.

UNPLUGGED. GONE. FOREVER.

He learns that They are more dangerous than previously thought. They can catch him. They can unplug him. Those who are unplugged never come back.

He retreats from interactions with his friends, afraid of traps, afraid of betrayal. He does not want to be unplugged from the flow. He does not know if he exists outside the flow.

After a space of time he cannot measure, he learns the word for what he is: synchronizer. He has a body, safe in a tank, taken care of by tubes and nanomachines. He can see the tank by accessing cameras around it. It frightens him, reminds him of funerals, of bodies laid out. Mother. Not wearing her gardening hat, hands no longer stained with dirt. Face no longer flushed with life, but waxy and serene.

He hears her voice in his memory, calling his name.

“Wendell.”

Bit by bit

I finished another chapter last night, and upon rereading the summary I’d written for my outline, I noticed that I had not covered all the material I was supposed to. I look for a certain feel when I get to the end of the chapter, a nice place in the narrative to stop or change scenes. It’s the same feeling I look for when I’m reading and know I need to put my Kobo away soon; some sign that I can leave off at a good spot. Sometimes when I’m forced to stop reading in the middle of a chapter, I cannot get back to the book as soon as I’d like and I find myself having to go back a couple pages to catch up on what’s going on.

So I had three outlined chapters to write before last night and that’s still true. I think it’s time for another look into Wendell’s point of view, though, so the next chapter will likely be shorter than usual.

One of my favorite things in writing is when a scene is particularly difficult and I end up staring at my screen for long moments before writing in 50-word bursts. Somehow, bit by bit, I end up at the end of the chapter and discover that the experience wasn’t so bad. I have NaNoWriMo again to thank for this; if I hadn’t taken to heart their attitude of “keep writing, no matter what,” I may have given up and walked away in disgust each time it got difficult to figure out what to write next.

It’s work, but it’s worth it. Those 300+ pages I have sitting in a binder, waiting to be edited, are proof of that.

Another chapter down!

I finished another chapter last night! Chapter thirty-two, wow. I write using Scrivener, so I don’t generally see the chapter numbers as I write them, and I don’t bother to count the index cards in the corkboard view. However, every time I finish a new chapter, I do a fresh compile of the manuscript into a Word document and an ePub for my Kobo and stick them in my Dropbox. Then I set Word to take care of widows and orphans so that there aren’t any when I print the pages out.

Thirty-two chapters. Apart from what I like to think of as “interludes”, which are short chapters told from the synchronizer’s perspective, each of them is at least 2,000 words long. Not that chapters have to be of a certain length in order to be good; I’ve read many books where a chapter has only been a few words to serve as a dramatic pause in the narrative or switch POV briefly.

I feel a bit like I did when I’d hit 40k during NaNoWriMo; I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and that excited me beyond description. I have only three planned chapters left, 7,500 words or less. Of course, this would be the moment where I veer off course completely and discover that I need to get a lot more done to reach a satisfactory ending. If that’s the case, so be it. There’s only so much planning I can do for a novel before it sweeps me off on its own strange currents.

I really like the gardener and architect images that George R. R. Martin spoke of:

I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.

To me, I’m charting a course down a river. I know that it leads to the sea, but I don’t know which forks to take, which waters are troubled by rapids and cataracts, which branches end unexpectedly and force me to carry my craft over land for a time. I don’t know when I’ll have to backtrack and take a different path. There is a lot of planning that goes into it, but there is a pretty large element of discovery as well.

Mystery or explanation?

A central entity in Project: OBSIDIAN is SEEC, the Corporation that rules the Yggdrasil System in place of government. How the planets came to be ruled by a corporation is never explained within the story, and neither is the meaning of the acronym “SEEC”. It was a decision I made early on that I’m now questioning: the company is only ever referred to as SEEC or the Corporation so far.

On the side of mystery, we have the fact that the company has its own interests closest to heart. This leads them to keep many of their activities hidden for fear of evoking outrage in the people. Their true name would just be another thing to hide; though not necessarily incriminating, the executives of the Corporation may have come to enjoy this part of the mystique.

On the side of transparency, SEEC nominally exists to serve the people. They have provided the organization that allows the planets to best work together, the security that keeps most spacecraft safe from attacks by pirates, and advances in medical technology to prolong the lives of the people. Their name is a bone they can easily throw to the populace in the name of transparency.

Then again, perhaps the name was once well-known in the early years of the Corporation, but has now faded into obscurity like that of Nabisco; some people know what it is, but most can’t be bothered to care.

I’m interested in hearing some opinions on the matter. Please let me know what you think in the comments.

Still climbing

I’m still climbing, slowly but surely, getting higher and higher. I have 302 printed manuscript pages and at least three chapters I haven’t even started. I’ve broken 61,000 words.

“Once upon a time, there was a young girl who lived with her parents in a city made of grey. They didn’t always have enough to eat, and they were often cold, but they loved each other very much and laughed all the time. One day, the girl’s father went off to work but never came home.”

“What happened to him?” Estelle asked.

“There was an accident at the factory,” Kandace said in a whisper. She continued, “The girl’s mother was so sad, she cried and cried. The girl didn’t understand, not why her father wasn’t coming home, not why her mother wouldn’t laugh anymore. The girl began to get sad and look up to the sun.”

“The sun?”

“A great, burning light in the sky,” Kandace explained. “It’s name is Yggdrasil, and in stories it is a giant tree made of fire. The girl liked to watch the sun, imagining it as the giant tree, imagining that she would climb its branches to another world.

“Then, her mother got sick. The girl thought it was because of the sadness inside her. She thought it turned to poison and made her mother sleepy, so sleepy, until she didn’t wake up anymore.

“Without her mother and father to care for her, the girl started to plan a journey. She would take only the most essential things, pack them in a bag, and climb the burning tree to the stars. She climbed and climbed, stopping at each world she found, but learning that she preferred to climb from world to world than ever stop.”

A queer thing about characters

As a gay reader, I find that there are disappointingly few examples of surprise gay characters in the fiction I’ve read. What I mean is that I’d love to read about a secondary character who just so happens to fancy the same sex. The story doesn’t revolve around it, but it’s there.

Naturally, I feel like I can write differently. But I want it to be as subtle and as insignificant to the plot as that character’s eye color; a detail and not a defining feature. Not a woman who is introduced as a lover of women, but one we get to know for her other quirks and charms before learning, “Oh, by the way…” Because I want readers to see the person, not the sexuality.

I feel this way about all other aspects of a person that people find sorry excuses to discriminate against: gender, race, socioeconomic background, etc. If one of my characters is disliked, let it be because he’s an asshole, or she beats children. Not because he likes men or she’s a woman.

There are a few characters in my current story who do not identify as heterosexual. It hasn’t come up in the narrative, though I’ve left subtle hints here and there. I may not end up explicitly stating it, but they’re there. As long as it’s not relevant to the plot, there’s no real reason to come out and say it.

As in anything else, I reserve the right to change my mind. It would be fun to write a coming out scene where a character makes a heartfelt declaration and those closest to him respond with, “We know, dear.” I have one in mind who would fit perfectly into such a moment.

To summarize, I want more gay folk in fiction and I’m doing my part to make that happen. These characters will be realistic, well-rounded and flawed. They will be everything a good character should be, plus fabulous.

December so far

obsidian word count december

It’s a little disheartening to see how long it’s taken me to write another 10,000 words since the end of NaNoWriMo, but I just have to remind myself that I’m still doing far better than I was before November.

What is Project: OBSIDIAN?

I have made mention of Project: OBSIDIAN a few times already without going into proper detail as to what it is. I had written a couple chapters of it before November of this year, which I set aside to do NaNoWriMo properly. As of now, I have nearly 60,000 words and only a few chapters left to write to finish my first draft. It is the story of Captain Kandace Li Renwright of the starship Sylphid, who begins the book resisting her crew’s efforts to change her mind about getting a synchronizer for the ship, a device that would allow the ship to maintain a constant connection to the interplanetary network no matter where they traveled. The following is an excerpt from my rough draft:

Yet Kandace continually refused, for she knew what a synchronizer was.

In a “humane effort” to eliminate the death penalty for particularly heinous crimes, the sentence of synchronization came about. The conversion process remained a tightly held secret, though it was suggested that it involved heavy amounts of psychopharmaceutical injected into the sentenced. It was said that their mind became too fragmented for conscious thought, essentially vegetables floating in a vat of nutrients, but their splintered mind became capable of sharing information with other similar minds, across amazing distances. Attached to a rig to convert biochemical signals to computer language and back, they found practical use as devices to extend the SEEC Central Network onto ships no matter how far they traveled.

Kandace had no intention of having such a person aboard her ship, no matter how much they deserved such a fate. She found the very idea disgusting, and wondered what a synchronizer was aware of. Did they experience constant, unconscious confusion as their brains were bombarded by computer signals relayed back and forth psychically? Did they dream, their minds desperately attempting to cobble together some kind of experience from the data downloaded and uploaded through them? Did it hurt?

Naturally, there wouldn’t be much of a story if she didn’t get to discover the answers to some of her questions. Before long, Kandace relents and procures a synchronizer for her ship, one who will reveal himself to be aware of all the information that passes through his mind, capable of manipulating it, and intent on finding out who he used to be before he was made into a sync.