2015 Goals

TheBrassRingNothing complicated this year.  I’m just trying to get books finished and out the door.  Right now I have six books in the queue, and I want to get as many of them out the door as possible.  Maybe that will be one.  Maybe it will be all of them.  But that’s going to be my main writing focus for the year: getting books out the door.

2014: Year in Review

CalendarObliqueThis past year has been a mixed one at best.

The bright point of the year was that I got a job, which relieved a lot of financial stress. On the other hand, though, it took away a lot of my writing time.

My goal of writing a million words fell flat on its face, mostly because of the job. I think before I started work, I was on pace for about 650,000 and accelerating, so it’s conceivable I could have made it, but the second half of the year pretty well tanked in my writing. I did manage a NaNoWriMo, but mostly due to a Herculean effort over the Thanksgiving holiday. Anyway, I stopped keeping good records in the later months, but I’m pretty sure I ended up in the neighborhood of 450,000 for the year.

But I did not get a single book out the door this year, and for that I consider the year a failure. I now have six – yes, SIX – novels in the queue. Two are technically still in the draft phase, but they’re close to done. Mostly everything is held up in edits, which I suck at. And alas, most of these aren’t the kind of edits I can hand off to an editor. These are essentially writing additional scenes and rewriting others to fix story problems. The actual grammar and language stuff goes pretty fast, and I DO get professional help with those.

But I get stuck on these story-level edits, and I’m still trying to fix that as a process problem. It’s not that I don’t know what needs to be fixed. I’m just having a hard time making progress on them. I once quipped, “I spent about forty hours this month not editing that book.” That is, I dedicated forty hours to the work but got virtually nothing done in that time. This is probably one of those things that I’ll eventually figure out, and once I do, I’ll look back on my lame excuses with the same scorn that I currently do for things like, “I don’t have the time to write” or “I don’t have any ideas”, etc. But in the meantime, I’m pounding my head against this wall of edits.

It’s also been a very rough year for me personally. I have special needs kids. I don’t talk about them much – at least not in specifics – but it’s been a hard year, especially with my oldest son, but even my youngest son has caused his share of gray hairs. My daughter, on the other hand, has been a delight. Still, I worry for her, growing up around her brothers who are causing me plenty of grief, even with thirty-six more years of emotional experience and perspective.

I’ve also been having a tremendous amount of physical pain this year. What started as an intermittent stabbing pain in my ribs in September 2013 has blossomed into near-constant agony throughout my torso. There are people out there hurting worse than me, so I feel lame complaining, but I also realize that I’ve probably only had three of four days since summer that the pain has not required a dose or two of Vicodin, just for me to function.

In the last couple of months, it’s gotten even worse while the source remains a mystery. A back specialist thinks the pain is being caused by pinched nerves. Apparently, I have herniated discs on either side of my T7 vertebrae, though how I did that is yet another mystery, since that part of the back is generally immune that this kind of problem. But after a couple of cortisone injections in my back, we’re starting to think there may be multiple sources to this pain. So I’m now being sent off physical therapy as well as a GI specialist. Apparently, there’s some chance the culprit is that bilious bag known as the gall bladder.

But whatever it is, I’ve spent much of the year exploring the upper ranges of the pain scale, determining the finer shades between an 8 and a 9. For those of you in similar situations, I highly recommend the alternate pain scale by Hyperbole and a Half.

So I go into 2015 with a few vague plans and a lot of an

Pain in the back/ribs

One of the things I’ve been battling with lately (in addition to edits and word counts) is an increasing level of pain in my back and ribs.  It’s been going since September 2013, and while it would come and go, for the last six months it’s been a pretty steady 5-7 on the pain scale.  Over the summer, it started it started seizing up with a pain level that went right up to the Hyperbole & a Half’s “10: I am being actively mauled by a bear”.

I have friends with chronic pain, and this has given me a whole new insight into their lives.  This pain has forced me into walking a precarious balance between hurting so bad as to be angry at the whole world and being too stoned on pain killers to really engage with the world.  I’ve been to doctors, chiropractors, and massage therapists the whole time, and none of them really had much success other than pointing me towards the next vertex in that little triangular round-about.

But now, at last, I may be getting relief. The latest MRI points to herniated discs in my back, both above and below the T7 vertebrae. That’s more or less between the shoulder blades. Anyway, the theory is that nerves coming through that are getting pinched and sending spurious signals in both directions. If so, then the pain in my ribs is not actually in my ribs, but merely being interpreted as being in my ribs, and seizures in those muscles are not a sign of problems in the muscles but rather the result of random misfires being sent down the nerves from the pinch point in my back.

It’s still unclear to me what I’m supposed to do about the herniated discs, but for the pinched nerves, there is a treatment, and I’m getting it today. They’ll be injecting cortisone into my back in two places near the spine. The idea is that the cortisone will significantly reduce the inflammation in the area, ending the pinch to the nerve. Given that this has been going for over a year, there is some chance I’ll need a second set of shots in the coming weeks/months. However, the theory is that this should eliminate the pain and seizing for years to come if not actually forever.

I’m not sure how much relief it’s going to provide me specifically for my writing, but I am hopeful.  And I’m also pretty sure it means one or more of my characters down the road is going to suffer from chronic pain as well.

Progress on Debts and the Possibility of NaNoWriMo

I’m finally making good headway on the edits to Debts of My Fathers. I’m behind schedule again, but I’m moving quickly at last. My target is to get it to the state of its second Beta by the first of November. I have a punch list of things to address, and I’m working my way down that list. Still, my goal of December looks more like January now, which will suck. But we’ll see.

Part of what’s driving me towards getting those edits done by November is that I’d like to take a stab at NaNoWriMo again this year. I don’t think I’ll be properly starting from scratch, though, but I do have an unfinished project that could use another 50,000 words. It’s the sequel to Hell Bent, tentatively titled Stone Killer, and I won’t take Hell Bent to the polish stage until its sequel is at least first-draft complete.

Still, Debts is my primary goal. If I get beta-reader feedback before November is up, it will take priority over the draft of Stone Killer. If I can get Debts polished by the end of November, then depending on the copyeditor’s schedule, a late December release is still a possibility.

In other news, my back is continuing to give me a lot of pain. The doc has me on anti-inflammatory steroids at this point. They’re helping some, but it’s a matter of dropping the pain from a 10 to an 8. Which is to say, when it seizes up, I can now sometimes keep my eyes open as I scream. Not fun, but I guess it’s something.

End of September/Mid-October Update

Again, I’m running behind. The flu or cold or whatever I had in September pretty much sucked up my entire month and kept my energy down in early October as well. However, I am starting to make some progress again, and I hope to get Debts of My Fathers out for its second round of beta readers at the end of this month. I’m also considering NaNoWriMo next month, but not unless I can hand Debts off by November 1st. I have a little less than two weeks to do that, but I’m working hard on it.

I’m also having problems with my special-needs kids, and I’m having a persistent pain in my back and ribs all along my right side. In its steady-state, it’s only about a 4 or 5 on the pain scale, but it frequently seizes up and flares to a 9 or 10. In more qualitative terms, it feels like someone is pressing a putty knife against my ribs 24/7, and every now and then, they stab me with a spearhead. So, that’s been something of a distraction. For the record, we’ve done x-rays, chiropractic adjustments, and deep tissue massage, but nothing has made it better. Whatever it is, it appears to be a soft-tissue injury, and wrangling my ever-growing boys probably reinjures it on a regular basis. I suspect physical therapy is the next step, but I don’t have a schedule for that yet.

So, the work continues, just never as fast as I want it to.

Blogiversary!

Wow… it’s been three years since I decided it was time to get moving on my publishing career, and while it’s been a great ride, I’ll be the first to admit that this third year has been a rough one.  I would say more, but at the moment I’m pretty wiped out.

Which is my way of saying it’s been a rough few weeks.  The last part of summer was rough, kid-wise, and then I had a week-long business trip that kept me busy each day from dawn to bedtime.  (I admit, though, that the trip itself was pretty fun.)  Alas, a week with the kids solo left my wife in not the best shape, and then to pile onto that, I came back from my trip with a burgeoning sinus infection.

So, I’ve been on antibiotics for several days, and that included five days of fever, something I haven’t seen since I was a kid.  I’ve been finally getting up out of bed some today with hopes of getting back to work tomorrow, though even that is going to be a struggle, energy-wise.

So, anyway, it’s been a rough year, writing-wise, which is sad, because I had set out with such high hopes.  I’ll update more in a few days when being vertical is not as much of a challenge.

Take care!

End of July Update

CalendarObliqueThe numbers sucked, but they’re not the whole story. I only wrote about 30,000 words in July, with about half of that on social media. There’s probably about another 5000 words in there that didn’t get counted, and I’ve got some edits underway for Debts of My Fathers.

The bulk of that 5000 words is some world-building. As I’m working on the edits to Debts – and after completing the drafts to the third book, Oaths of My Fathers – I’ve realized that there are some history elements that I want to include in Debts so that it’s not all backloaded into the final books. That also means finally converting some of the back-story elements from vague ideas into more concrete words. I need to confirm a couple of dates and numbers, but then the brief histories of the Republic and the Confederacy will turn into a series of blog entries here.

I’m also making some improvements in my health. I’ve been back on the treadmill pretty regularly for about a month now. Quite some time back, I started on a project to walk a thousand miles. Both for my back and because of a history of anxiety and depression, I need to be walking more, some of it brisk cardio and some of it slower. Well, with some other problems and distractions (including a treadmill that had so many defects that it was eventually replaced by the manufacturer), that’s been a slow trip. However, I’ve been going well the last month or so, and if I can keep it up this month, I’ll pass through the 500-mile mark in early September.

I’m currently hoping to get Debts of My Fathers out in December. It still needs a lot of work, but at least now I have a good plan for what that work needs to be and how to get it done.

I also have to admit that yesterday’s apparent suicide of Robin Williams hit me kind of hard. I don’t feel like talking about my own bout of depression today, but it reminds me that life is painfully short, and that I don’t want to get to the end with nothing to show for myself.

In other news, I’m getting ready to rerelease Beneath the Sky with a new cover. It’s a significant improvement, but I might still revamp it again down the road. I’m also hunting for a cover artist to do the rest of the Father Chessman series. I’m reasonably happy with the cover for Ships of My Fathers, but I don’t think I’m capable of what’s needed for the rest of them.

I suppose I should also say something about the whole Amazon-Hachette thing, except to say that I don’t really have a lot to say that is my own. I’m not really on anyone’s side, except to say that Amazon has treated me better than Hachette, Patterson, Turow, or Preston ever have. I think I’m far better off with Amazon than I’d ever be with Hachette, and in that world-view where everyone else is Just Like Meyou’re probably guilty of this as well – I think most of Hachette’s authors would be better off on their own. That doesn’t really have anything to do with this pricing dispute between Amazon and Hachette, but it doesn’t predispose me towards Hachette or those shilling for it.

In the meantime, I’ve got books to write and kids to raise.

The Village Reunion

IndiaMapI was at ApolloCon recently, and because I had tried to book the hotel at the last minute, I ended up in the hotel across the street where I ended up in the middle of a very different kind of convention. It was a reunion for people who immigrated to the United States from a particular village in India. I got the impression that this wasn’t something they did every year but that it was not the first such reunion either.

There were probably 300-400 villagers at the reunion, and I have to say it had a great vibe. It was like being at a giant family reunion where everyone had grown up in the same neighborhood. When we arrived on Friday, everyone was pretty casual, but most everyone – the younger generation especially – were all in the same colored t-shirts, printed up specifically for the event. Then on Saturday and Sunday, we were treated to all their finery from back home, and with the various things scheduled, they must have gone through three of four wardrobe changes each. Not even the Klingons and Star Trek miniskirts across the street could hold a candle to these folks.

So it got me thinking about the sci-fi equivalent of such a thing, and it kind of blows my mind, especially when I run the numbers. Villages in India range from perhaps 500 to 10-15,000 people, but India has a population of 1.2 billion people. I had thought at first that the sci-fi equivalent would be like having a reunion of all the Texans living on Latera. But if you scale the village size up the appropriate amount to make it the same percentage of the Earth’s entire population, it’s not a state. It’s a town of 30-50,000. It’s not Texas. It’s Pflugerville, a small suburb of Austin, Texas. So it would be like pfour hundred Pflugerville pfarmers getting together at hotel in downtown Stonefall pfor a pfestival, and I think that would be pfreaking pfantastic!

Trust me, if you lived near Pflugerville, you’d think it was pfunny.

But more than that, I think it would add some great color to your colony worlds. The only challenge to it is the large range of places our villagers could go in the great human diaspora. The villagers I ran into only had a world population six times bigger to blend into, and the US represents about four percent of that. If you include all the children of the old Republic in my sci-fi universe, there are well over a thousand worlds for our villagers to head off to.

But they might still end up clustering together. After all, if ever get to emigrate, I’d be tempted to go to the place where my brother-in-law manages the spoo smokehouse. Of course, by the time I’d have that option, I probably wouldn’t even be on Earth. My hypothetical self would be few dozen generations down the line living on some far-flung colony already. So while Stonefall might never get a huge influx of pfolk pfrom Pflugerville, it would still likely have a section down south by the docks known to the locals as Rigeltown.

End of May/June/Q2/First-half Update

CalendarObliqueGolly, I’ve been quiet here lately. Mostly I’ve been heads-down, focusing on this new job. It’s not that it took all my time, but it definitely left me scrambling about, trying to find new ways to manufacture writing time. (FWIW, the answer is at least partly “additional child care”.) Anyway, something had to go, and when it came down to blogging vs. working on new novels, blogging got put down like a rabid dog.

Hmm, my brain apparently thinks it still has fictional people to kill.

Anyway, I have been making progress on fiction. Today I finally finished the draft to Oaths of My Fathers, which is book 3 of the Father Chessman saga. I always like to write the sequel to a book before I do my final edits, so that means I can now go back to work on Debts of My Fathers, which a number of fans have been… well, pleasantly insistent that I finish off and get into their hands. So, that’s coming. I’ve missed three announced release estimates in the past, so I’m holding off on dates for the moment.

Anyway, let’s look at the numbers. In May and June, my writing rate was down significantly. In May, I wrote only 20,918 words, and in June, only 33,443 words. This is down from around 50,000 words a month towards the earlier parts of the year. For the year, I’m at 239,682 words, which now has me on a track to come in under 500,000 words. Again, blame the job. On the other hand, my autistic kids now have good health insurance, so yay!

The words were split similarly to earlier in the year, except that I’m doing more private journaling. It’s not that I’m having lots of deep thoughts. Rather, I’ve found it’s a good way to warm-up my brain for writing narrative. I can do free-form writing for five to ten minutes, and then I’m up to speed on turning thoughts into written words. If I go straight into the narrative, that can sometimes take twenty to thirty minutes, and lately, twenty to thirty minutes is all I can grab in one slice.

So, I’ve thought about trying some blogging here as part of that warm-up rather than strictly doing private journaling, but I cannot do the kind of blogging I used to do in that format. Specifically, I had been doing defined slots. Monday was an article about something in the SF/F genre. Wednesday was usually writing-related, even if it was just to say that I was neck-deep in bloody edits. Friday was reviews. As you can see, I haven’t been managing that very well this year.

So I’m giving serious thought to going free-form. There are a number of things I could talk about, but I frequently don’t. Either they didn’t fit into a slot, or they touched on the unholy trinity of blogging flame: politics, religion, or … Hmmm, I can seem to remember the third. It seems like there should be three. Anyway, rather than dash something off, I’d spent almost as much time convincing myself not to write it, or at least not write it for the blog.

That may be changing soon.

I’ve long been a fan of John Scalzi’s blog, “Whatever”. First, he does have good content, but mostly I admire his willingness to blog about, well, whatever. So, when I say I might be looking to his blog for inspiration, it’s not that I want to copy his style or his topics. It’s that I want to feel more free to blog about whatever strikes my fancy and not censor myself so much.

I do this knowing that I’m more likely to attract some annoying flame-puppies or haters, but I’m all right with this. I’ve long been a believer that blogs are different from shared public forums. They are not the town square. Blogs are the author’s living room, and I have always believed that in my house, it’s my rules. So I won’t have Scalzi’s Mallet of Loving Correction, I have no qualms about using the tools at my disposal. Hopefully, such incidents will be mercifully rare.

So that’s it for now. There will still be articles on things in the SF/F genres and writing/publishing news, and I will continue to post reviews. But they’ll be mixed in with a bit more what’s happening in the world around me.

End of April Update

CalendarObliqueWell, there’s no two ways to cut it. April sucked for me as a writer. No, no bad news. I just did not perform well as a writer. I’ll trot out the standard excuses of a lot of travel and a bunch of fires to put out, but the honest truth is that I didn’t make it a priority. Yes, I got a lot of other “necessary” tasks done, but they came at the cost of writing time.

So, let’s look at the numbers…

Total writing for the month was 35,465 words, of which only 7000 or so saw the light of day. That’s less than half the pace I was shooting for, and only about 60-70% of what I managed in the previous months. So definitely not so good.

What’s behind that drop-off? I got a job.

A local company made me an offer that was actually quite good. It’s for programming, which is how I paid the bills most of my life, and given the situation at home with my special-needs kids, they’re going to let me telecommute. That won’t be anything new, since I did that for a decade at my last programming job.

However, that meant that I spent a lot of time this month getting my home office back in shape for taking on a programming job. I’ll confess to a certain degree of vanity here in that I didn’t want to do videoconferencing until I’d had a chance to reduce the level of clutter in my office. It’s still far from perfect, but I’ve probably dealt with close to two cubic meters of stuff, from dead cables to old paperwork. So, now it’s merely a mess, not a an episode from Hoarders.

I don’t want to say too much about the company. My job will not be an outward facing one, so I don’t want to find myself treading into accidental corporate communications. However, I will say that they’re working on a problem that has held my interest for a number of years, and I think their solution will make a positive impact on the world. Certainly it will help WidgCo sell more widgets in Widgetistan, but I think it will also make a difference in fields as diverse as medicine and NGO charities.

But yeah, it’s going to impact my writing time, and I am rather conflicted about that, particularly after the preparation for the job significantly cut down my writing in April. Still, they do know I’m a writer, and they seem fairly well committed to a good work-life balance. As such, I do not expect to find myself on another 70-hour-week death-march project I had at my last programming job. And yet, I will say that I wrote the first draft to Beneath the Sky during the peak of that 70-hour-week grind. (It was a NaNoWriMo, after all.)

This is actually good news for a number of reasons in my personal life. Even with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), it was proving difficult to get health insurance for my eldest son who suffers from fairly extreme autism. And even then, the options I was seeing in the plans available to me as an individual purchaser were not nearly as good as what I had at my last job nor as good as what seems to be coming with the new job.

And then there’s the money. I’m pretty pleased with how well my writing income is coming along, but it’s nowhere near what I can make as a programmer – at least, so far. The extra money going to be nice for everything from hiring extra childcare to eventually doing something wild like putting solar panels on my Texas roof.

But there’s also a silver lining for you, my readers. Most of my writing income so far has been paying for things like food and electricity. Now, that income can be poured right back into the writing career. That means I’ll be hiring out more editing services and cover artists, reducing my overall production time. I think I’ll keep the actual format/assembly for myself because… well, I like it and think I’m pretty good at it. The first dividend from that is a tossed some money at a new cover for Beneath the Sky. It was partly just an experiment, but I’m also fairly happy with the result. I’ll do the reveal soon once I have the official files.

Now, to update the schedule, it’s pretty much all bad news for you patient fans. The feedback from my beta readers is telling me I need to put in 40-60 hours of edits on Debts of My Fathers, and that will take most of May. So, right now I’m shooting for a mid-to-late June release.

As for the rest, right now I’m crossing my fingers, hoping that the more rigid schedule of a full-time job is going to help me prioritize the writing time for when the time is actually available instead of letting little fires crop up and consume my days.