Another new (sort of) story

I’ve posted a story that I wrote over 20 years ago. I had almost forgotten about it until I was cleaning out my storage shed and found it among a stack of papers that the mice and silverfish were converting into nests and food. Amazingly it survived unscathed. Perhaps it was an omen. I don’t know. In any case, I typed it back in (the original floppy disk is long gone), made a few editorial tweaks, and put it up for you to read.

It’s called “The Bowl“, and you’ll see why when you read it. You can find it in the Free Stories section.

Advertisements

More Scavengers

I’ve added another story in the Scavenger series. Things are starting to get interesting as Humanity finally learns one of the scavenger’s secrets and a scout pilot gets a second chance to avenge the loss of his fellow crew members.

Thank you for following the blog

To all those who have signed up to follow my blog The Wind Muse, thank you. I don’t respond to each and every new follower, mainly because I’m busier than a cat with the runs trying to dig holes in a sand dune. In the middle of a wind storm. I do try find the time to write fiction (when I’m not writing other things, like technical books and stuff for work) and then toss it up on the blog, but to be perfectly honest I don’t have time to do much else.

But I do appreciate the views, and I do try to visit the blog of each new follower. I hope that others find the stories here interesting and entertaining. I have fun writing them, and I’d like to share that enjoyment with others.

I will also try to respond to comments. Maybe not quickly, but I will respond.

New Short Story

I’ve put up another instalment in the Scavenger series. Another peek at the lives of people working in the cold and dark of deep space out beyond Neptune, looking for resources to keep the inner system worlds alive, while at the same time avoiding the looming menace of the Scavengers. The encounters seem to be occurring more frequently, and still there are no answers. Here’s a snippet:

Lucia landed again on the surface, her left boot slipping slightly on a loose collection of small ice rocks. She steadied herself, and then spotted a large frozen block jutting up from the surface a few meters ahead like the old broken tooth of some gigantic animal. She moved over to it and pushed up next to its jagged shape. Then she turned off her headlamps, and suddenly the darkness was now absolute.

Check out the two stores in the series so far. It’s good old-fashioned hard science fiction, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

You can find all my short stores on the Free Stories page.

Translations

As I was typing out a message to an artist in Brazil who has done some excellent work for me (the image of the female hand with the blue flame/spirit is his work), it occurred to me that I might want to consider having some of my short stories translated into Spanish, Portuguese, and perhaps Italian. I thought of these because I often find myself interacting with people who speak one or more of these languages on a regular basis. The Spanish I can probably handle with a little effort, since I live in a place where about half of the population speaks it and I kinda-sorta speak it (I understand more than I speak–funny how that works), but I don’t think I’m up to taking on either Portuguese or Italian and doing justice to either one.

I was also wondering just how important it is to have one’s work translated into another language. What I mean is that there is always Google, and it seems to do a decent job (it sometimes botches the tenses and irregular verbs, but most of the time it’s readable). Then there is the wide-spread proliferation of English across the world. It’s still only the third most common language globally (Mandarin Chinese and Spanish are #1 and #2, respectively), but it is a common lingua franca of technical and commercial discourse. Surprisingly, Portuguese comes in at #6, according to the Swedish Encyclopedia Nationalencyklopedin.

Nonetheless, I suspect that a person who’s native language is not English would appreciate being able to read something in their native tongue. So, I’m on a quest to find an affordable way to get some of my work translated. I will periodically post updates on my progress, and if you have any suggestions or advice to share on this topic, please feel free to do so.

Here’s a bit of humor about languages:

What do you call someone who can speak three or more languages?
A polyglot.
What about someone who can speak two languages fluently?
Bilingual.
And someone who can only speak one language?
An American.

(This was told to me by a Russian language professor at an awards luncheon a while back–he’s an American from Ohio)

Teaser

Fadi ducked back behind the scarred and crumbling wall, praying silently that the rebel patrol had not seen him. He carefully picked his way along the wall, listening intently for any sounds of pursuit. Or, even more terrifying, the sound of one of the evil hunter-killer drones the fanatics had obtained from some foreign country to use in their brutal campaign. He no longer had a weapon, having run out of ammunition a week ago. Rather than carry the now-useless gun he had simply dropped it and continued to run.

At the end of the narrow alley he reached the corner of the old building, and after taking a cautious peek into a deserted courtyard, slipped around the corner. He had eluded them once again, but he knew he couldn’t do it forever. Sooner or later they would catch him, and they would kill him.

Interested? Want to read the rest of the story? You can find it, along with others, here.

The Hemingway Writing Tool

Regardless of how you might feel about his politics, or his gender biases, Ernest Hemingway wrote some of the tightest prose to be found anywhere. He also left a legacy of quotes, tips, essays, and opinions about the art of writing. I agree with many of them, but not all. I have my own style, don’cha know.

Anyway, a while back a couple of brothers managed to identify what they felt where some of the key points of style attributed to Hemingway, and they encapsulated them into an application. This particular bit of software doesn’t really do anything that any decent style analysis tool can’t do (RightWriter comes to mind), it just does it with a Hemingway twist. This article from the New Yorker, dated February 13, 2014, provides some interesting background on the tool and the brothers who wrote it (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/hemingway-takes-the-hemingway-test).

Just for grins I recently fed my short story “The Junk Collector” into the web version of Hemingway, and it actually fared pretty well. The web-based version of the Hemingway app assigned it a grade level of 5, good readability, and only whined about a couple of sentences it thought were difficult to read. Apparently it was simply looking at sentence length, not the internal structure. The sentences were actually carefully constructed to pack in a lot of information in what is almost a poetic structure. Here’s one of the sentences in question:

“Hundreds of old phonograph records (and, of course, record players to play them with), brand-new, unopened boxes of vacuum tubes, and even a few old computer systems with the tape drives and panels of flashing lights — like the ones in the hokey old science-fiction movies that sometimes show up on late-night TV.”

Personally I like this sentence, but the Hemingway app flagged it as evil. I disagree. For me it builds a complex image of the scene it is describing. To overly simplify it might risk losing the sense of cluttered chaos that motivated it to begin with. Just to see what would happen I made a minor change:

“Hundreds of old phonograph records (and, of course, record players to play them with), and brand-new, unopened boxes of vacuum tubes. There were even a few old computer systems with the tape drives and panels of flashing lights — like the ones in the hokey old science-fiction movies that sometimes show up on late-night TV.”

With this slight change all the red flags went away and the story ended with only 3 “difficult” (i.e. long) sentences and 7 adverbs. But, for me, the modified sentence doesn’t have the same gravitas it once did. Instead of one compound subject (all the junk) it now has two subjects (some junk and some old computers). That isn’t what I had originally intended.

Hemingway is, however, useful in that it allows me to see where things might be awkward or excessively wordy, and I can then ponder it and decide if I want to make changes or not. Some folks, however, are not impressed with the Hemingway app at all, like this person (https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/03/31/hemingway-app-judges-writing-badly/). On other blogs there seems to be something of a drinking game going on with people feeding Hemingway’s own work into the app and then marvelling at the results. I don’t think Hemingway was particularly hard-over about writing rules, and he sure as hell didn’t strictly adhere to his own advice. He did what all good writers do: He wrote what worked best to tell the story.

As with any style and grammar analysis tool, the Hemingway app is useful as a sanity check for your work, not as an ultimate authority. You can check it out here (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/), and there is also a desktop version available.

How long does it take to write a book?

Writing a book is not a trivial undertaking. I’ve written two technical books, both over 550 pages, and I’m now abut half-way done with a third. The first one took a little over a year. The second one came in at around 11 months, and the this latest effort looks like it will be around 7 months when it’s done. I would surmise that I’m getting better at it. At least I hope so.

Fiction, on the other hand, has turned out to be a whole different kettle of fish. A technical book is akin to writing a large thesis, except that with a thesis the focus is usually concerned with research of some sort (a novel hypothesis, or an improved way to do something and use the resulting data). Data and references are presented to support the research. A technical book, on the other hand, is a collection of established facts and proven techniques, organized in a useful manner. Fiction might be based in facts, and it might even be said to present a form of speculative hypothesis, but the focus is on the story, not on the little details that make up the scenery. The author can take certain liberties and present off-the-wall ideas, and in some forms of fiction this is expected.

The amount of time required to create a technical book seems to be directly proportional to the level of detail and the degree of novelty employed. It takes time to do background research, gather facts, perhaps write and test some software (if the book is about programming), or build and document project activities. The more that goes into the book, the longer it will take to write it.

Writing fiction, on the other hand, can be as simple as correlating word count with how fast one can type. Something like a romance novel needn’t involve a lot of historical detail that requires fact-checking, although some do. Science fiction can be very straightforward so long as there are no calculations involving velocity, distance, mass, or energy.

But what about a novel that involves lots of historical references and established science? I bring this up because I’m currently working on a novel that has been in progress now for so long that the original draft was saved on 5 and a quarter inch floppy disks which have long since vanished (and I no longer have anything that can read them, anyway). Over the years I’ve managed to accumulate a bookshelf full of reference works, interviewed some doctors and other professionals, browsed through medical libraries hidden in the innards of teaching hospitals, and created a boatload of notes. Why? Because I want it to be right. The story is important, to be sure, but it’s a story with wider implications than just the immediate lives of the characters. So I need to get it all nailed down before I turn it loose. I’ve been at it now for almost 20 years.

Sometimes it does get discouraging. I would have liked this particular book to have been done 10 years ago, but it takes what it takes, and it will be done when it’s done. On the other hand, I’ve found that some things go very quickly. The short story Rana took about 5 days to write, and I’m happy with how it turned out. Another book in the works (science fiction) is about half done, but I haven’t really put a lot of dedicated time into it. All told, about 3 months of effort so far.

If I were to offer advice on how it might take for a new writer to create a book (or even a good short story) I would have to first say that the most important thing is patience. The second most import thing is persistence. The writing process will get easier over time, just like exercise gets easier the more often you do it. Don’t expect to bang out an 85,000 word novel in a few months on the first attempt. Start small, build on what you’ve already done, and keep adding to it every chance you get. If you need lots of details and references, then expect that it will take a while. If not, then just keep plugging away at consistently.

Beginnings, endings, and middles — Story assembly techniques

When I’m working on a short story, I’ll often start with what I think of as a sketch. A couple of paragraphs that give a synopsis of the story in very broad strokes. Sometimes the sketch isn’t much more than just a couple of intro paragraphs, and other times it can be more involved. I don’t outline a short story, mainly because I like to give the story enough room to essentially write itself. Other writers might be more comfortable with a detailed outline, and some folks might just sit down and start typing. I’ve done that, too, and sometimes it works out.

For novels (I’m currently working on three–no kidding!) I like to create a list of the characters with some backstory on each major character, and some descriptions of the settings (or scenes, if you wish). In other words, a short version of what is called a “writer’s bible” in the land of TV and movie scripts. From that I’ll work on an outline, starting with minimal detail and then adding more as it occurs to me. The outline is also where I uncover holes in the story that need attention (i.e. did I get the timeline correct and are my “facts” correct?). Lastly, I might have initially written the first chapter to introduce some of the characters and set the stage, so to speak, but after the reference and the outline is done I like to write the last chapter. So, what I end up with are the first and last chapters, and a lot of descriptions of what will go in between. Sort of like a sandwich with two pieces of bread and a list of what will be between them tucked into the middle in lieu of any real lettuce, tomatoes, or cheese. The real work is then putting in the real stuff between the ends.

Lastly there are technical works. For a technical book I will typically create a chapter-by-chapter outline. Then I write the preface. This is a key part of a technical book, although it is all too often skipped by many readers. The preface is where the author defines the purpose of the book, who the intended audience is, and how it is organized. Each chapter gets a short description, and the outline created earlier becomes the framework on which the rest of the book is built. So, in general, a technical book is much easier to write than fiction. There’s no story to speak of (although there might be an over-arching theme). Some technical books are narrative in nature, with each successive chapter building on the concepts presented in earlier chapters. Textbooks are often structured like this. A reference book, on the other hand, is largely just a collection of topics, each of which might be able to stand on its own without relying on other parts of the book. The upshot is that a technical book is an organized collection of facts and descriptions. It’s not an exercise in creative writing.

I guess I could sum it up by saying that all writing, regardless of what type it might be, has a starting point. A solid, well-defined starting point provides the foundation for the rest of the work. An outline or a preface is like a road map–perhaps not very detailed, but a map nonetheless. Writing the final chapter of a novel is like tying off the end of a rope pulled across a canyon or river that defines the end-points for the bridge that will be built between them.

Blog navigation insight

I’m having a bit of a problem with this blog. There is probably an easy solution to this, but I have neither the time nor the patience to try and figure it out.

You see, I really like the blog style I picked for the Wind Muse. Sleek, lean, nice color scheme, and pretty much how I’d like my home and office to appear, but it never will because of a surplus of what George Carlin referred to as “stuff”.

However, things like the number of likes and so on don’t show up on the front page, and the comments are hidden behind a small cartoon dialog balloon at the top of the post. What a reader needs to do in order to see these auxiliary bits of digital ephemera is not immediately obvious, but it is ludicrously simple.

Just click on the title of the posting.

What I would like is for a message line to appear at the end of a posting that does have comments that reads something to the effect of: “To see comments on this posting, click here”. Otherwise a posting without comments would be left unadorned. It would be nice to be able to show the number of likes, as well, so new readers could see what other people happened to think was interesting enough to tag with a like.

I’m sure there is a way to do this, but as I stated earlier I have neither the time nor patience to investigate it.

So, until I have the time to deal with it, or I get established enough as a writer to hire a personal secretary (yeah, I know, dream on), please just click on the cartoon dialog balloon thing if you want to leave a comment (I suspect that one reason I might have so few comments is because it isn’t obvious as to how to leave a comment). Or just click on the posting’s title to see what else might be lurking behind it.

And, please, feel free to leave some comments.