Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

November 27, 2012

Progress check – My arms hurt

Filed under: the renovated life,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 10:33 am

I can’t quite fully flex my elbows. My shoulders and wrists feel loose and flop unreliably when asked to manage the slightest loads.

You may not be surprised to learn that this has nothing to do with repetitive strain injuries brought about by an excess of novel writing. Or at least, not as much as the sledge hammer with which I spent all weekend bashing down a brick pond in the back garden. A startlingly well-constructed pond, as it turned out.

Nevertheless, the novel rewrite proceeds, if not at a breathtaking pace. Last night I battled through procrastination, fatigue and the sweet motivational allure of TED Talks videos to hammer out the 700 or so words that took the manuscript woundcount total past 10000 (or 11%-ish done).

I don’t know if this is typical of other people’s writing process [1] but the experience of doing a complete rewrite of an essentially complete novel is interesting. Even though I have a detailed outline, I am still discovering new story elements as I go. Last week I realised that one of the central characters had no occupation of any kind in the first draft – she just drifted from one discussion to the next, poking at a mystery in which she was at best half invested. So now she’s a cop, and she’ll be dealing with several plot elements that didn’t really make sense to hang on some of the other characters. Way to step up, Rachel – enjoy your probation!

I’ve also found that having the outline – which is not much more than a chapter-by-chapter “X learns this” or “events have this effect on Y” or “Z takes the fight to the triffid-farmers” [2] – gives me a bit of room to play with structure at the lower levels. It turns out that it makes sense for Chapter 2 to be a Rashomon-like retelling of the same event from three different perspectives. It makes it fun to write, though of course the trick will be whether I can also make it fun to read without being redundant or confusing.

Anyway, after adding only a disappointing 3000 words for the week I am trying to get back to my target 4000+. I now have a nominal deadline. The CSFG novel critiquing group will resume in February or so – eight round-table participants take turns critiquing a novel or novella manuscript a month. I haven’t done much long-form criticism before [3] and I know that my novel will benefit immeasurably from being torn apart by kindly strangers, so I want to put myself in the nest possible position to take advantage of it. But that means I need to be finished or close to it by February. Eep!

Progress report: 10,005/90,000

[1] Because I am such an inexperienced rewriter. What I mean is that I am a lazy, lazy writer and I have a lifelong aversion to doing any piece of work a second time. Not going back and reviewing work to see if it can be improved is a demonstrably hard habit to overcome.

[2] Obviously I am being deliberately obfuscatory here. There are no characters called Z in my novel.

[3] coughcoughcough. I am still working on manuscripts from two of my buddies, who are demonstrating exemplary patience with my slow feedback. It’s coming, I promise!

November 20, 2012

Review – The Last City by Nina D’Aleo

Filed under: books of 2012,books read,reviewage,women writers challenge 2012 — lexifab @ 10:26 pm

It’s been a while since I reviewed something for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012, so I will take a few quick minutes out to mention a novel I picked up as part of a giveaway from Momentum Books.

The Last City by Nina D’Aleo is one of the first speculative releases from Momentum (Pan MacMillan Australia’s digital-only imprint). My copy came as a free promotion from the Amazon Kindle store.

The Last City is a strange melange of cop procedural, survivalist thriller and epic fantasy – in fact, the book can be divided into three parts that roughly correspond with those descriptors. It’s set in a vast, crowded, intensely stratified – physically, economically and culturally – megatropolis called Scorpia, the nominal last city on an apparently arid world. The story concerns a squadron of elite police investigators called the Oscuri trackers, led by the pleasingly pulpishly-alliterative Commander Copernicus Kane. As the story begins the Oscuri, including first-day-on-the-job rookie Silho Brabel and socially-awkward genius Eli Anklebiter, are investigating a gruesome, ritualistic multiple murder. As is so often the way of things, that crime leads inexorably to gang wars, royal intrigues, demon infestations, revolutionary uprisings and horrors from beyond the dawn of time.

D’Aleo’s worldbuilding is compelling and rich, if occasionally somewhat patchy. The population of her world of Aquais are all descendents of some form of genetic splicing (whether magic, superscience or spirit-binding was the original cause is unclear, though I would bet good money that the author has detailed notes). These various bloodlines bestow everything from physical and behavioural attributes to magical superpowers – lion-breeds socialise in prides, cobra-breeds have fangs and spit venom, and so on. Scorpia comes across as a magical reflection, albeit a couple of orders of magnitude more populous, of Bladerunner’s LA – multicultural but ghettoised, steeped in history and habitual cultural behaviours. Much of this we see from a somewhat jaded cop’s perspective – the story does not touch on much of day to day life for the presumed millions of ordinary Scorpians.

I had a few problems in reading The Last City, most of which would probably not bother other readers. The story is presented from multiple points of view, and virtually every character with any prominence in the story is tormented with the need to protect a dark secret from their past. Some of these hidden secrets forge improbable connections between the main characters and the rest are plot-essential linkages to a rising demonic menace. The tight interconnectedness of the leads felt out of place against the sprawling urban chaos of the setting.

The balance of the pacing is a bit strange. The early investigation scenes are painstaking and methodical to a frustrating degree, and the momentum gathers very slowly as the demonic shenanigans get rolling. The final act, by comparison, is full of exhilarating and desperate action. I found my perserverance rewarded with the ending, but it was only obstinacy on my part that got me to that point. I also had trouble identifying with several of the characters for much of the story, and it was only towards the final third – when the epic threat has fully manifested and the whole world is at stake – that I felt most of them started to kick into gear.

Overall I thought The Last City was a good read that never quite made it to a great read for me. It’s inventive and thoughtful but the pace is deliberate and some of the characters wear their plot-essentialism a little too close to the surface for me. That said, once the setup is out of the way and the action gets started, it’s a satisfying epic technomagical thriller.

November 18, 2012

Progress Check – Unexpected halfway points

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 7:40 pm

I am horrified to discover that the month is already more than half over and I do not have half a novel written. Well, not really, I never expected to keep up to the breakneck NaNoWriMo pace of 1667 words per day. In the time honoured tradition of November writing frenzies, I got off to a pretty good start on day one which I followed up with more than a week of barely any progress at all.

Last Monday I set myself a modest but realistic goal of writing at least 4000 words for the week. Assuming I do a little more work after I’ve finished writing this, I’ll achieve that goal, though only just. I’ll raise the bar a little for next week, but I suspect that’s probably a manageable pace for life at the moment.

I’m trying not to think about how long it will take me to finish the draft if I keep to that speed. I’ll just try to knuckle down and hopefully be pleasantly surprised to have it done sooner than expected. I don’t really have a deadline in mind, though I am conscious that there will be an opportunity for a pitching session with a couple of publishers [1] at the next Conflux convention in April. If I have a completed manuscript by then I will certainly take a shot at it. [2] By all accounts it’s a scary experience on a par with the worst interview for the best job of your life – but who doesn’t want to add gruelling terror and crippling self-doubt to life’s rich tapestry?

That’s a long way away though. One step at a time. In the meantime I have a book to write, three short stories and two novel critiques to finish, an entire garden to renovate, a brick wall to knock down, a birthday, Christmas, swimming lessons and the start of school.

Oh, and a day job, which to be frank is pretty far down the priority list.

Progress report: 6264/90,000

[1] One of them I have major fanboy squee about, dating back to my Shadowrun gaming days, of all things.

[2] I don’t really expect to attract a publisher’s interest with this book – it’s rural Australian urban fantasy, which is not a subgenre with a vast and hungry audience. I might be wrong in that assumption but I would be pretty damn surprised. But it’s what I’m writing and it’s the sort of thing that someone like me might like to read, so what the heck. It seems like a good way to learn the ropes (aka harsh realities) of the publishing scene.

November 1, 2012

Progress Check – First day on the new project

Filed under: wordsmithery — lexifab @ 11:12 pm

I kicked off the novel rewrite tonight with a slowish but decent start of 1150 words, beginning with this line:

On the day Nyssa Cole triggered her second personal apocalypse, all she expected was to make a sale and be done by lunch.

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo, but I hope that I’ll manage NaNo numbers on at least a few days. That line notwithstanding, the opening scene starts off slow before it picks up pace. So far I’ve only written the slow bit. I think it will certainly need to be trimmed, but I needed to ease my way through the setup first. And while technically this is a second draft, in reality I don’t expect to be reusing a lot of text from the first run-through. Too much needs to change, especially in the early sections where I didn’t know the characters well enough, so this effectively is a complete rewrite.

Progress check: 1150/90000.

Books of 2012 – October

Filed under: books of 2012,books read — lexifab @ 10:27 am

A very quick entry because I did not get through very many titles last month:

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher – The…12th (I think, or maybe the 13th) instalment in the Harry Dresden novels, and the one about which I feel least comfortable saying anything, because spoilers. Most of the novels in this series can be summarised thus: Harry, a Chicago wizard PI,  takes on what looks like a simple case involving the supernatural, albeit one with worrying implications. It soon turns out that the case is far more complicated, dangerous and potentially apocalyptic than he realised. Wisecracks, explosions and magical mayhem duly follow, and there is a very big fight at the end. Butcher knows how to construct a really tight action-adventure story and roll it out at decent pace (although this one is a little slower and more reflective than most because of spoilers). If you happen to want to read them, though, I strongly recommend skipping the first couple and jumping straight to book 3 Summer Knight.

Anywhere but Earth by Various (Edited by Keith Stevenson) – Massive volume of short stories that I spent most of the month reading. I reviewed it last week, you may recall.

These bring my annual total of non-comic books read to 52 (I think). I am not likely to make my target of 80 books, but I’m still doing okay, I’d say.

Powered by WordPress