Monthly Archives: November 2013

Today’s Picture, 11/30/13

Athena Scalzi, Chicago, November 2013.

This concludes November’s Pictures of the Day series. If you would like to view the set in its entirety, all 30 pictures of it, they’re available as a Flickr set here.

For those curious regarding the technical details, these were all taken with my Nikon 5100, with the majority being taken between November 1st and November 3rd in Chicago, and a few additional ones taken later in November in Bradford, Ohio. Post processing done with Photoshop CC and Camerabag 2. I generally talk about my picture-taking techniques here, and discuss my photo tools in general here.

Lock In, Super Finished

Just added another 1,400 words to Lock In, which you may recall I noted was already finished. Well, I didn’t lie. It was (and is!) finished, which is to say that I had written the story that I wanted to write and achieved everything that I had wanted to with the book. If I had been hit by a bus the second I stopped typing on Wednesday, one, that would have been really weird, because I was sitting in my office on the second story of my house, which is nowhere near any buses at all. And two, I would have been okay with Tor publishing the novel as-is (with, of course, copy edits that I would not have to deal with because I would be dead, hey this bus plan sounds better the further I go along).

With that said, one of the nice things about finishing a book slightly before deadline is that it affords a little time to go back and do (as I noted on Wednesday) a little buffing and polishing. In this case, the buffing included adding one new (short!) chapter and the polishing included adding an action scene to a different chapter. Lock In was good, and done, before. Now it is better, and still done.

And that is the nice part — no matter what else I do to the novel between now and Monday, when I send the thing in, it is still done. As I noted to my wife now, what I am doing now is the equivalent of walking into a room that you spent a whole bunch of time cleaning and made spotless, and moving a few things around a bit to make the feng shui just a little bit nicer.

The novel now stands at about 77,400 words, and I suspect may creep up even a little bit more from there as I comb through and detangle a couple of plot threads, make a couple of tweaks here and there, and otherwise play with the novel’s figurative feng shui. This is the fun part of the novel writing, actually. The hard, stressful part’s done. This part’s relaxed and easy.

Update: Added about another thousand words, did a final sweep-through and sent it off to my editor. At this point, no reason to wait any longer, you know? And now I start vacation!

Today’s Picture, 11/28/13

Interior of the Rockefeller Chapel, the University of Chicago, November 2013. The lights at the altar were being strung to celebrate the beginning of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

If you’re in the US, Happy Thanksgiving. If you are elsewhere in the world, have a good Thursday (or possibly even Friday now, depending where you are).

Lock In, Locked In

Which is to say it is done. Exactly 76,000 words.

What next? I spend the next few days (although not Thursday, that’s Thanksgiving) combing through the text, tying off various loose ends, reconciling plot points, making obscure bit less of obscure, and punching up dialogue. I am also trying to decide whether to add a few more bits to it here and there. Indeed to read the whole thing through in one go to figure that out. Which is to say I don’t expect it to stay 76,000 words exactly. I expect it to creep upward slightly before I ship it off to my editor on December 2nd.

And then I get the rest of the year off! Whoo-hoo!

For those wondering where Lock In fits in terms of length of my books, it’s about the same length as Fuzzy Nation or Redshirts (with the codas. Without the codas it’s considerably shorter). The Human Division, for comparison, was my longest book at about 130,000 words. Yes, I know. All of those are novelettes compared to a George RR Martin book. Honestly, I think I would go insane trying to write a book that long.

I’ll talk more about this book at some point in the future, but for now I will say I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got here. This is in many ways a different kind of book for me, and I was curious if I was going to pull it off. I think I have. I hope you think the same when you see it next August.

(Also, for those who are hoping this means a full bore return to Whatever starting tomorrow, no. Please note I’m spending the next few days buffing and polishing. But I expect you’ll see me being positively garrulous in December.)

Today’s Picture, 11/22/13

Fall foliage, Bradford, Ohio, November 2013.

Also, a programming note. I’m going to be trying really hard to finish the novel before Thanksgiving. You will likely not see me here again before it is finished, excepting the posting of the daily picture (which, as you might imagine, will run through the end of the month). Wish me luck.

The Big Idea: Mary Anne Mohanraj

The novel The Stars Change takes place in a far-flung future, on a world that is not Earth. But for her story, author Mary Anne Mohanraj reach into our planet’s recent history — and her own.

MARY ANNE MOHANRAJ:

I live in a bifurcated timeline.  Perhaps all immigrants do, but rarely are the differences so dramatic.  In this timeline, the bright one, I have a job, a house, a partner and two healthy kids.  In the darker timeline, I could easily be dead.

My family left Sri Lanka when I was two years old.  They didn’t plan to stay in America; they came here to work, maybe for a few years.  Like many immigrants, they thought they’d save up some money and then go home, but as their kids grew up, went to school, as they settled into their American lives, it became harder and harder to imagine going back.

Still, in 1983, when I was twelve, my parents planned to send me back for a summer, to live with my grandparents, to reconnect.  They were still thinking we might all move back to Sri Lanka.  But then, a few days before my flight, my dad received a telegram.  Don’t send her.  There’s trouble coming.  He cancelled my flight.

It’s called Black July in Sri Lanka.  Riots erupted in Colombo, the capital city, killing thousands of Tamils, the ethnic minority group, the group to which I belong.  Brutal chaos ensued – friends of mine who were there tell horrifying stories.  They saw tires put around men’s necks, saw them lit on fire.  They saw women and children dragged from their homes, pulled from cars to be raped and killed in the street.

I saw none of this, but the stories haunt my fiction.  Whether I’m writing mainstream lit or fantasy or science fiction, I keep coming back to the war in Sri Lanka.  I keep thinking about the life I would have had, if my parents had made different choices.  If we had stayed there, and been killed in the riots.  If I had gotten on that plane.  If we had fled, as so many of my aunts and uncles did, and ended up as refugees in Canada or elsewhere.

When I started writing a science fiction novel, after twenty years of publishing erotica and mainstream lit., I planned to write something light, something fun.  I was going to write about South Asians!  In space!  With lots of sex!  Oh, I’d start with a war, because every story needs some conflict – the first interstellar war, in fact.  People would hear the news, and would take to their beds – a reasonable response to the end of the world.  I was aiming for smutty, funny, maybe even charming.

But as I wrote the book, the tone shifted.  This was, after all, the darker timeline.  The darkest.  I needed a reason for the war, and it turned out that it was the pure humans against everyone else – specifically, both the aliens and the humods, those genetically engineered to be different from human.

Yes, it’s a race metaphor.  Of course it is.  Writers write what troubles them, what disturbs them, and on a fundamental level, I cannot quite believe that there’s a place in the world where complete strangers are willing to kill me because of my perceived race.  Tamils and Sinhalese speak different languages, are typically of different religions (Hindu/Catholic vs. Buddhist).  But I grew up in America, and I can’t tell by looking at a Sri Lankan which ethnic group they belong to.  Can Palestinians tell Israelis by sight?  Do Hutu know Tutsi at a glance?  And even if they can – by the color of their skin, the shape of a face – why is that worth killing for?

When you read the newspapers from lands torn by ethnic conflict, you’ll see rhetoric about purity.  Racial purity, ethnic purity, language and religion and culture.  When a group feels itself under attack, divisions tend to harden, and people tell themselves stories that justify their hatred.  In America today, it’s clear that many conservative white people now feel themselves, their way of life, to be under attack.  Political positions grow rigid, and people harken back to a ‘lost’ way of life, an idyllic time when things were better.  In Sri Lanka, many nationalist Sinhalese still talk about the Tamil ‘invaders’ who took over their island, even though both groups came to Sri Lanka more than two thousand years ago.

The title for The Stars Change comes from a university motto:  Sidere mens eadem mutato:  The stars change, but the mind remains the same.  I think the university meant it to be hopeful, but there’s a darker reading – that even when we go to the stars, we carry our minds, our prejudices and fears and hatreds, with us.

The Stars Change is set at a university, on a planet settled by South Asians.  As with many major university towns, there’s a diverse population, and sometimes, with those differences, conflicts emerge.  There are outside forces, agitating for war (because with war comes profit, among other things).  There are buried resentments that erupt into violence.  There is pain, and fear, and death.  I totally failed to write the light, smutty book that I’d originally aimed for.

But despite the darkness of this timeline, there is brightness too.  There is hope.  In the end, this is a book about frightened, divided individuals, human, humod, and alien.  People who have good reason to fear and even hate each other, yet manage to put aside their differences and come together as a community.  When a missile threatens to obliterate the Warren, the alien ghetto, there are some who would stay safe in their beds and let it burn.  But there are others – there will always be others – who run towards the flames, trying their damnedest to help.

In Sri Lanka, during the riots, there were so many Sinhalese who sheltered their Tamil neighbors from the brutal thugs.  At the risk of their own lives, they stood up to those with hatred burning in their hearts.  In the end, theirs is the story I wanted to tell.  Even in the darkest timelines, I believe a light can burn.

—-

The Stars Change: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s

Visit the book page, which includes an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Reminder: I’m Totally on a Deadline

I’ve seen some grousing about the relative lack of content here this month, so I’d like to remind folks I have a book deadline and pay copy has to take a precedence to writing here, for reasons which should be obvious but if not are related to me eating and having a roof over my head. Don’t worry, after the novel has been turned in and I’ve slept for, oh, three days straight, I’ll probably be back to my usual chatty self.

In the meantime, enjoy the pictures. They’re pretty. And that’s not nothing.

Fuzzy Nation is the Number One Audiobook on Amazon Today

Almost certainly because it’s Audible’s Deal of the Day, available for $2.95 until 11:59 Eastern Time today (I would have noted it sooner here, but, hey, I was on the move.

If you’ve wanted to try one of my audiobooks but never got around to it, this is a pretty good one to try; in addition to being a pretty good story in itself, it’s narrated by Wil Wheaton, and the two of us share an Audie Award (the audiobook industry’s top prize) for it, in the category of science fiction. So, yeah, it’s not bad. Enjoy.