Daily Archives: August 1, 2005

Other News (Quickly)

Aside from writing The Ghost Brigades, here’s what else has been going on:

* Agent to the Stars is now out and selling quite nicely — between pre-orders and early sales, well over half of the 1,500 print run is already gone. So if you wanted a copy but have been putting off the actual purchase, you might want to reconsider your procrastinatory ways, since there are no more after these ones are sold. As an appeal to your munificent side, I’ll remind y’all that 10% of the cover price of each copy of Agent to the Stars goes to the Child’s Play charity, which gets video games and other toys into the hands of kids in children’s hospitals across the US, and also that I’ve made a pledge that if the entire print run sells out by December 31, I’ll kick an additional $350 out of my own royalties. So go ahead, make me donate my own money, why don’t you.

* I noted briefly that I have other projects I have lined up for the rest of the year. What are they, you ask? Well:
— I’ve been asked by Rough Guides to update The Rough Guide to the Universe, which will make it the first of my books to go into a second edition. And not a moment too soon, considering the vast amount of new information regarding Mars and Saturn since the first edition came out (and also that whole “10th planet” thing last week).
— I’ll be spending the last couple months of the year editing collecting and slushing stories for the Subterranean Magazine edition I’m editing, the one with the theme of “Big Honkin’ SF Cliches.” Don’t worry, I’ll remind you all again when it’s time to start sending in stories. I suspect I’ll also probably whomp something up for that in terms of a short story; I have an idea. No, I won’t tell you. Think up your own!
— I have one other small but cool project I’m working on for Subterranean Press, about which I’ll say no more until Subterranean makes its own announcement.
— My agent and I have been churning through a couple of ideas for the novel I’m going to write after I complete The Ghost Brigades, so immediately after I’m done with TGB, I’m on those to get out to the market. After I finish TGB, I won’t actually have another novel project lined up, which the first time I can say that in a couple of years; clearly we’ll need to address that.
— I’m still doing stuff for the Uncle John’s folks, so chances are pretty good if you pick up one of their books in the next couple of years, it’s got an article or two from me in there.

That’s the stuff I know I’m doing; there are other projects I have in the hopper that are in various stages of nebulosity, most of which are likely to vaporize, so best not to discuss them for now. Suffice to say I’ve got enough to keep me busy — enough that I has to turn down a chance to work on a project that I thought was very cool because for the life of me I didn’t know where or how I was going to fit it in. It kills me to turn down work, especially when the project seems like a big ball of fun as this one did. But I’m coming to grips with the fact that I actually have to sleep and spend time with the family as well as work — as I go along time management becomes rather more of a concern.

* I’m off in a couple of days to Interaction, this year’s Worldcon; my own poor time-magaement skills (see above) caused me to have to beg the US government to rush deliver me my passport, but let’s not talk about that now. For those of you who will be there and wish to see me expound on various subjects, here are my panels:

– Thursday 5:00pm: How to Participate in and Moderate a Panel
— Friday 12:00 noon: The Immortal in Written and Media SF
— Friday 1:00pm: You Killed Off the Old People: Depicting Older People in SF
— Saturday 7:00pm: Is Blogging Helping or Hurting Your Career?

You will also probably see me wandering about from time to time although possibly not as much as you might expect, since I do plan on banging away on The Ghost Brigades while I’m there as well. What can I say — it’s getting about that time. However, I don’t plan to be a total hermit. Expect me to be scarce in the day but about in the night. The usual vampire schedule.

* Oh, and changed the look of the Whatever again (as you can see).

That’s where I’m at.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

As most of you know, the reason I took time off in July was to finish writing The Ghost Brigades, which is the sequel to Old Man’s War. Did I finish? Ah ha ha ha ha! No. However, I’ve finally made some excellent progress on the book, and have gotten beyond the point in the book (writing-wise), where the preliminaries are done and the plot is rolling and all I have to do is write what happens next. When you get to that point in the writing (or at least, when I get to that point in the writing), everything becomes a whole lot easier. I thought I’d take a few moments to talk to you about the challenges writing The Ghost Brigades has presented to me as a writer. Don’t worry, there are no plot spoilers coming up.

The book has had several challenges so far. Structurally, although this book is a sequel to Old Man’s War, I’m trying to write it like a stand-alone book; I want people to be able to read this one without having read OMW and still get something out of it. At the same time I don’t want to have OMW readers to feel like they’re covering the same expositional ground for the benefit of people who have tuned in late; that whole “As you know, Bob…” issue which plagues sequels. So there’s a fine little problem, and one that frankly cost me a fair amount of time trying to solve.

Now, at one specific point I do have a flat-out omnicient narrator exposition dump, because it’s necessary and also because I think it’s interesting to readers, as it addresses some some questions people had coming out of OMW about how the Colonial Union and the Colonial Defense Forces operate. But most of the time this sort of exposition is coming out in a reasonably natural way through dialogue and action, so I’m happy with that.

Plotwise, The Ghost Brigades is rather wider open than OMW. That book was first person and stayed on the narrative rail of John Perry’s experiences as a soldier. TGB is third person and follows more than one character in the narrative, and is focusing specifically on two characters, who represent different aspects of the Ghost Brigade experience (one of these characters, OMW readers will be happy to know, is Jane Sagan). These narrative threads have to work on their own and also work as a group; at this point I’ve laid down the threads and am now at a point where I’m threading them together.

Writing-wise, this is a more complex task than sticking to a single point of view and one plot thread, but I think it’s necessary for this particular book. First, it forces me not to write Older Man’s War, which would be easier to do (and frankly sometimes I wish I had done, because I’d definitely be done with that book by now), but which I think would make for an inferior product off the bat. It could be that The Ghost Brigades is a swing and a miss, but if so it won’t be because I went for the safe play. Second, the situation of the Special Forces (aka the Ghost Brigades) is more complex than the situation of the average soldier in the Colonial Defense Forces (which John Perry was, basically). To properly tell the Special Forces story needed more than one vantage point.

The most challenging task so far has been spinning out the social world of the Ghost Brigades themselves. It gives nothing away to note that the Colonial Defense Special Forces are child warriors in superhuman adult bodies; as specified in OMW, they’re born with the knowledge and skills of adults but they lack the emotional experience and social ties that the rest of us get by growing up. It’s one thing to have that as an informational aside when you’re writing a different story (as I was in OMW); it’s another thing to have it front and center from a narrative point of view. How does one portray an entire fighting force whose members are simultaneously lethal adults and confused children, and how do those characters manage that tension themselves?

Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s tricky (and it’s even trickier in this case because there’s an additional aspect to the situation which I’m not going to get into because I promised no plot spoilers). There are a couple of places where people are acting like children, and it’s not just an expression. I’m going to be mildly curious to see how readers handle serious bad-asses having a tantrum. Of course, Homer had Achillies sulking like a freakin’ teen, and no one seemed to mind. But he’s Homer, and I’m not, and I don’t have three millenia of cultural history on my side. More’s the pity.

To be clear, none of the challenges above came as a surprise to me: One of the reasons I chose to write about the Ghost Brigades in this book was because it wouldn’t let me get off easy and simply squat out another book in the OMW universe. I’d have to work at it, which is better for me as a writer, and (hopefully) better for the people who read the book. On the other hand, there’s a difference between setting up one’s self for a challenge and actually following through. This is the first novel I’ve written where I’ve taken significant chunks of what I’ve written and either completely reworked them or simply torn them bodily from the text; I’ve written a novel’s worth of words, all right, and sadly a novella’s worth of them will never see the light of day. Well, not sadly, actually, as they were expunged for a reason. But it’s shot my efficiency rating all to hell.

I’d be upset with that (I like my reputation as a fast writer), but the thing is I like the book I’m writing, which suggests that this rather more messy process is working for this particular book. In the end — and properly so — no one will give a crap about the process; what they’re going to care about is whether the book they have in their hand is a good read. I’d rather work on being a good writer than a fast writer. It’s also a reminder that the advice Gene Wolfe gave to Neil Gaiman is correct: Writing a novel doesn’t teach you how to write novels, it teaches you how to write that novel. This novel is teaching me how to write it, and I suspect I’d be a fool not to listen.

Having said all that, the amount of time I have to write this book is rapidly coming to a close; I have other projects and Tor quite properly wants the manuscript so we can start marketing the hell out of it. I have to give them a good novel, but I also just have to give them a novel, period, end of sentence. I’m going to get back to it now.

Thank You to The Guest Bloggers!

Before I do anything else, let me take a moment to thank Laurel Halbany, Ron Hogan, Claire Light, Eric Magnuson, Jeff Porten, William Schafer and Jim Winter for their really wonderful work as guest bloggers in July. As a reader, it was whole lot of fun reading their work; as a site proprietor, I am delighted that my instincts were correct that they would keep the site fresh and interesting while I was off doing other things.

I am going to leave the links to their personal sites up on the main page of the Whatever for an indefinite amount of time (at least a few months); I hope that you’ll follow their further writings in their own places.

This was such a successful experiment that I suspect I will repeat it again at some point. I’m also giving some thought to possibly founding a group blog as an adjunct to this site, and would probably use this site for that if I did. Naturally, I welcome your thoughts on the matter.