So, I gave a talk last night at the public library in Marion, Ohio — Hometown of former (and dead) president Warren G. Harding — and I had quite a bit of fun, and hope those who were there did too. At the beginning of the talk I gave a rundown of all the sorts of writing I do — novels, non-fiction, newspaper and magazine, blogging — and asked the audience what they wanted me to talk about. Seems that most of them were there to hear me blab about science fiction. And so, that’s what I blabbed about, for about 90 minutes, pretty much non-stop.
It sort of amazes me that I can blather in public for 90 minutes on a subject and keep finding things to say about it. At some point I wonder if people just wonder if I’m ever going to shut up, but then I remember they’re actually there to hear me talk. So I just keep going. I didn’t end up doing a reading — I brought some work with me but I didn’t get to it — and part of me wonders if I should have. But the next thing I knew I was at the 90 minute mark, and I think I was only actually scheduled to speak for an hour. I’m just a wind-up toy, I am.
I think I did a reasonably good job; you’d have to ask the people who were there. I do know that I like doing speaking events. It’s fun to get up and talk and to have a conversation with the audience and what have you. Aside from the actual writing, it’s one of the most fun things about being a writer. Not all writers feel this way, incidentally. But I’m an attention hog. I eat this stuff up. So if you’re looking for a speaker, you know where I am. And I want to thank the Marion Public Library for having me come by. It’s a lovely library with lovely staff, and I had a great time.
On to another subject entirely: In the wake of finishing The Last Colony, I’ve had a couple of questions about it and writing, and I thought I’d go ahead and answer them.
Colin F asks: “Can you give us a hint when we might see TGB released in paperback?”
I’m not going to hint, I’m going to tell you: The Ghost Brigades will be out in mass market paperback in May 2007, pretty much when The Last Colony hardcover hits the shelves. Since Old Man’s War will be out in mass market paperback in January, that means both of the previous books will be out there for people to grab along with TLC. Naturally, this makes me happy.
Those of you who are book nuts may note that while OMW had a trade paperback release, TGB is going directly into mass market; there are reasons for this involving advanced bookselling voodoo that I could tell you about, but then I would have to kill you. I don’t know if there will be a trade paperback version of TGB; right now I don’t think there are any plans for one, however. If this changes I’ll let you know.
Chang asks: “Do you have any sort of ritual for finishing up a novel? Besides crashing into the bed and not moving for a few days?”
Hey, don’t discount collapsing into a pile. It really does seem to be my post-book ritual. I finished TLC in the afternoon after having a nice long night of sleep, and I though well, at least this time I won’t fall into a coma, and then plopped on the bed to watch TV and woke up at, like, 9:30pm. Apparently finishing a book takes something out of me whether I want it to or not.
Other than that, no, I don’t really have a ritual. When I finished The Ghost Brigades I celebrated by buying myself a fancy-shmancy new dSLR camera, and this time around I thought about buying myself something else similarly expensive, but in fact I have not done so (yet). I’m itchin’ to buy a new PC, but I want to wait until the first quad-core PCs hit the market later this year, because I’m just that way. Other than that, there’s nothing expensive I really feel like buying at the moment (well. I would like one of those sweet new Mustangs. But I have no excuse).
I did change the look of the Whatever in tandem with finishing the novel; maybe I’ll make that a ritual from now on (I really like the new look, incidentally. I’m always happy when I do something I like). But then again, maybe I won’t. I don’t know that fetishizing the completion of a book is a smart thing do, at least for me. For one thing, developing a ritual takes work. And you all know how much I am against that.
From e-mail: “I was just wondering what word processor and writing tools you use while writing. Do you have a Windows or Mac PC? Laptop or desktop? Do you use Microsoft Word or some other word processor? If it’s MS Word, does the product handle a 90k+ word document well, or do you have to break it up into seperate files? Are there any special templates, tools, or funky font settings that you mess with, or do you just ignore all of that stuff and worry about it after you’re finished and passing the manuscript on to your publisher?”
Well, it’s interesting. I wrote The Last Colony on three separate machines using two separate word processors, and in the end I’ve come to the conclusion that whether I like it or not, I write better using Microsoft Word than any other word processing program. Part of the reason for this is familiarity: I know Word’s quirks better than any other processor, and I know its format better as well. But part of it is that even if you save a document as a common format (I tend to use .rtf), different programs will open and format it differently. Eventually for the sake of sanity I had to choose just one program to use, and that ended up being Word.
Also, and sorry to say this, but all other word processors for the Mac just plain suck. I wrote The Ghost Brigades and part of TLC on the Mac using TextEdit, which was adequate but not optimal. Pages — the Apple word processor — is just plain useless; I ended up taking it out of my dock completely. In both cases you have to be careful about changing fonts globally because when you do both the programs wipe out various formatting, which is ridiculous and stupid (yes, it’s possible this is just me not know how not to do this, but come on, people: If the default for changing a font wipes out formatting, it’s clear the program was not designed to be used on a regular basis).
I ended up having to have two sets of documents for TLC: the ones I edited on the Mac and the ones that I edited on my laptop. Eventually I decided this was stupid downloaded the 30-day trial version of Word for the Mac, and then used that to collate all the files into a single document that I could then use whatever computer I was using. The trial version of Word:Mac is going to expire in a couple of days; I’m going to go ahead and buy the damn thing so I don’t have to do this sort of ridiculous byzantine multi-format nonsense again (to answer the specific question: Yes, Word handles very large documents just fine. I sent my novel to my editor as a single file).
On the formatting side, when I write, I tend to write using one of two fonts: Optima or Times New Roman, in both cases because I like the look of the font and they’re easy for me to read. I tend to use either 10-point type blown up to 125% view or 12-point type at 100% view — if it’s any larger it annoys me. As I’m writing I tend to use what has become the “Web Standard” formatting: no indent, single spacing, double space between paragraphs. The fact is I do the majority of my writing online, at least in terms of volume, and so this has become my default way of writing. Before I send the final document to my editor, however, I reformat it into standard manuscript formatting, because I want to make him happy, and reformatting is not difficult to do (in Word, anyway).
Other than the formatting I note above, which requires no special tools of any sort, I don’t use any templates or fancy formatting or whatever. I just type. Fiddling with formats and templates in my opinion is mostly procrastination, ar at least it’s procrastination for me. So I don’t bother. I just type.