the starlight dialogues

Done at 100,500 words, which is what, 8.5K more? By “done” I of course mean “…with the first draft,” which means that, once I’ve given the manuscript a couple weeks to cool off, I get to do all kinds of revising and rewriting. I’m not complaining. That process is just as fun and awful as writing the first draft, but in a completely different way. I think it’s very necessary for novels, too. With a short story, you can often hold the whole concept in your head at once, translate it to the page, and find that, barring a bit of line-editing, you’ve more or less recreated that vision.

At 5000 words, give or take 2.5K, a short story is 5% as long as this book. There are going to be things I didn’t account for and need expansion, and things that felt promising as I wrote them but ended up going nowhere and need extraction. Taking care of both these things makes a book much, much stronger.

Think I’m done with progress reports for now, though, mostly because I’ve discovered they’re boring as shit. Bye!

11K words; 93K total. No disruptions put me off pace, it was just harder. I had consistent output every day I sat down, but instead of finishing an all-day session with 4200 or 3500, I’d end up at 2400; instead of 2.5K on my short days, I was lucky to see 2K. I’ll probably see my total drop even more next week.

Why? Because I’m currently about a third of the way through the final chapter, bitches. I won’t be popping the champagne (or, more accurately, cracking the Smirnoff) just then, though. Well actually I will, tonight and tomorrow, but that will be for general-purpose drinking, not celebratory inebriation.

Point is, after the final chapter wraps up, I’ve got to go back and thread a reworked short story as interstitial material between chapters. Long-time me-fans–hi, Mom–will recognize it as “All Man’s Children,” my first short story I ever sold. Gonna be a little trickier than cutting and pasting, though. As my first real attempt at some structural experimentation within a novel, I’m looking forward to the challenge and hopefully learning a new trick.

17K more words as of last night, bringing it up to 82K total. Best week yet word count-wise, but at least one significant chapter felt underdeveloped, and may need serious expansion and revision once the draft is done.

I’m actually sitting at 83K right now with about two and a half chapters to go and plans for an interstitial story. I’m guessing the first draft will end up somewhere between 95-98K words. A little under my final estimate, but that’s good: I find I tend to expand my word count in revisions, focusing on characterization, setting, and world details that puff up my final count. My first draft should leave me with 5-10K words to play with as I expand the second draft before the manuscript starts getting beyond agentorial comfort zones.

After that, I’m thinking my third draft should be about cutting every excess word I can. Having done this with several short stories, I’ve found I can trim anywhere from 5-10% without compromising the story in any meaningful way.

This process, ideally, will leave me with a manuscript that’s got everything it needs and leaves out everything it doesn’t. Revisions are a bitch, but I’m looking forward to seeing how I do with this new approach.

Thanks to con-going wiping out my last Friday and Saturday, I’m sitting at 65K words as of today, or 8.5K new ones over the last week. Or should I say the last “weak” because that shit is so measly it probably never had its MMR shot.

Did finish another Aether Age submission. That took an additional 1.5K, so if you look at my combined fiction output, I’m back up in quintuple digits. Booyah.

P.S. May change title to The Starlight Rebellion. Something more badass, anyway. One piece of con advice I’m trying to make practice is that a work sells itself from the title on down. Say you’ve got two books in front of you, The Key and The Hyperactive Adventures of Dog-Man on the Planet of the Invisible Bras. That “key” is probably some deep metaphor, but whatever door it opens, you can bet there aren’t any tits behind it.

Another 16K words this last week puts me up at 56.5K total. Good times, considering the middle of a novel is the most troublesome and bastardly segment. I don’t expect anything near that word count this time next week–RadCon ate up all my writing time today, and will cripple it tomorrow, even though I’m skipping out on the middle of the day to squeeze in a few hours on it before heading back for another series of author panels–but I ought to be up around the two-thirds mark, after which the logical course of the remaining story will be relatively easy. By which I mean it will regress from being as painful as five bitches on a bitch boat to two or possibly three.

Ellen Datlow, by the way, is a cool character. She shrugs off networking con people with an honesty that’s blunt but not impolite. When asked, as an audience member in a panel on taboos, whether she had any, she replied “As an editor? .. Bad writing.”

Between that panel and a later live interview by Eileen Gunn, I’ve got a clearer picture of how a lot of the big anthologies work–hers, anyway, but presumably she’s not alone–by request, mostly, once they already know your name. How do they see your name? By working with you before, obviously enough, but also by having your name out there. She reads Interzone, I know that much.

Still trying to figure out how much appearing in smaller zines affects anything. I meant to ask her take on that, but I’m crippled by some character trait (polite deference or over-meekness, depending on your values) which means I normally don’t ask my obviously brilliant questions. Those omnipresent rambling con-goers who don’t even know why they opened their mouths in the first place have to be heard, after all.

I added 11.5K words to The Starlight Dialogues this week, taking the total up to 40.5K, or roughly 40% of my anticipated length. I can reasonably look to have the first draft done in about 4-6 weeks.

That total’s down a bit, but I’ve been housesitting for my parents all week, and the veterinary misadventures of their incontinent cat ate up half of my Wednesday (and made me late for kung fu class for the first time ever (unless you count the two times I’ve missed it as being a week late)–as I went into the kitchen to crate kitty and take her to the vet, I walked straight into a boobytrap that, for the sake of the dojo mats, I felt the need to scrub off my shoe before heading out). I did, however, put 1.2K words into a new Aether Age story, so if you add that to my total word count, my pace barely dropped at all.

What did I get to write in the last week? Yesterday I wrote my first space battle! Like, with spaceships shooting at each other through the INKY VOID! I don’t know how, over the course of one sci-fi novel and about fifteen SF short stories, I managed to avoid doing that until now, but it was a blast (har). Tried to make the physics and logistics as real as possible, and if anything the inclusion of a few boundaries only made it easier to visualize how the whole thing would play out.

My intrepid crew also reached the AI’s home base. The Starlight Dialogues is turning out to be pretty heavy on the sociology, with a distinct sociopolitical solution in each of its settings, and theirs is the most extreme yet: they don’t really need anything besides a bit of energy to keep themselves alive, and as they have very little in the way of infrastructure, there’s no consumerism and very few “real” jobs among them. It’s not a total utopia–they’ve got a tyranny of the majority thing going on–but it’s a whole different set of conditions to work with from the varied human needs of food, water, shelter, etc.

By this time next week, I ought to be past the halfway point and have the crew landed on their final destination. After racing through numerous Earth societies, the Martian colony, and the AI habitat, it’s going to be different to stay in one place for the remaining 40-50% of the book. Failure ahoy!

I’ve added 15,000 new words in the last week, putting me at 29K earlier today. That’s a hot pace to try to keep up, but if I maintain it, The Starlight Dialogues will be finished, in first draft terms, in 4-5 weeks.

Needless to say it’s going well. I tried working out a more thorough outline before diving into this one and while there’s still a lot of gaps on a scene-by-scene basis it’s providing me with a lot of structure when it comes to keeping track of individual narrative threads. Building meaningful continuity over the course of 400 pages is the toughest and possibly defining aspect of writing a novel. With that under control, I’m feeling pretty good right now.

In the last week I’ve written 10,000 words on The Starlight Dialogues, putting me at 14,000 total with an end goal of 100K, give or take 10%. My plan, which I’m announcing for the purpose of creating a self-shaming motivator should I start falling behind, is to finish 10-12K a week. The first draft would be done by the start of April. I’m hoping that, after taking a 4-8 week break afterwards to get over that post-novel feel of “Man, I’m the greatest thing in the history of narrative! No need to change a single word on this masterpiece,” that’ll leave me with just enough time to go through revisions and start submitting to agents (submit? Never surrender!) before my savings runs out and I start seeking new employment in earnest.

None of which will ever happen, of course, unless I figure out the rest of this fucking scene. One thing I’m trying to do these days is make all the scenes in TSD pull double duty–advance the plot as it reveals key differences between American and Martian society; develop character as it foreshadows a more important relationship down the line–and while, as I roll into the end of Act One, I’m all prepped to start leaning into a big old curve in the plot, I haven’t yet figured out a second element for this scene to explore.

Okay, enough analysis. Back to the salt mines with me.

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