Retreat, Day 25

Picture of a page of writing

Tomorrow’s online class is Delivery and Description. Click here for details.

Today’s wordcount: 3001 (so far. plenty of daylight left.)
Current Hearts of Tabat wordcount: 119954
Total word count for the week so far (day 6): 23568
Total word count for this retreat: 70229
Worked on Hearts of Tabat, “Moderator,” untitled piece
Works finished on this retreat: “California Ghosts,” “My Name is Scrooge,” “Blue Train Blues,” “Misconceptions of Gods and Demons”
Taught week 3 of the Writing F&SF stories class, prepping to teach Delivery & Description tomorrow.

We have no water at the moment, or at least a pump is broken and we must conserve what we have in case of fires. Hopefully fixed soon, but I drove into Santa Cruz this afternoon and had a nice chat with the guy at the Pure Water store, who recommended all sorts of local places and doings.

I have been reading and reading here. I was watching no TV but Wayne and I usually watch Big Brother each year, so we started watching it while he was here and now have been watching it together while Facetime-ing. Yes, we are huge geeks.
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Retreat, Day 22

coffeeToday I am letting myself slack a little, feeling caught up from the weekend’s excesses and so I can game tonight.

Today’s wordcount: 2592
Current Hearts of Tabat wordcount: 119954
Total word count for the week so far (day 3): 13568
Total word count for this retreat: 60229
Worked on Hearts of Tabat, “Moderator,” untitled piece
Works finished on this retreat: “California Ghosts,” “My Name is Scrooge,” “Blue Train Blues.”
Time spent on SFWA email, discussion boards, other stuff: 45 minutes

From the untitled piece:

The magician gestured, and out of the pool came musicians, the very first thing the tip of a flute, sounding, so it was as though the music pulled the musician forth, accompanied by others: grave-eyed singers and merry drummers; guitarists and mandolinists with great dark eyes in which all the secrets of the moon were written; one great brassy instrument made of others interlocked, so it took six to play it, all puffing away at their appointed mouthpiece, and all of them bowed down to the priestess who stood watching, her sand-colored eyes impersonal and face stone-smooth.

“Very pretty,” she said, and yawned with a feline grace, perhaps even accentuating the similarity in a knowing way with a tilt of her head.
The magician smiled, just as catlike, just as calm. “You can do better, I am sure,” he said.

She shrugged, her manner diffident, but rather than reply, she pursed her lips and whistled. Birds formed, swooping down, and wherever they swooped, they erased a swathe of the musicians, left great arcs of nothingness hanging as the seemingly oblivious players continued, their music slowly diminishing as they vanished, the instruments going one by one, and the last thing to hang, trembling in the air, was an unaccompanied hand, holding up a triangle that emitted not a sound.

Landing, the birds began to sing, and though the music was not particularly sweet, there was a naturalness about it that somehow rebuked the mechanical precision of the song theirs succeeded. As they sang, more and more birds appeared, and the music swelled, washing over the pair where they stood, like a river.

The priestess patted the air with the flat of her hand and the birds winked out of existence, leaving the two of them in a great white room, the antechamber of her temple.

“Will you go further in, then?” she said, and her voice was still casual.

The magician’s eyes were green as new grass and the black beard on his chin, which grew to a double point, was oiled and smelled of attar-of-roses. He considered her as though this was the smallest of debates, and finally stepped forward.

“We are still evenly matched,” he said.

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Retreat, Day 21

IMG_6608Feeling a bit more caught up, some solid word count today. If I can bank a little more tonight, I’ll give myself a treat tomorrow and go down to check out the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

Today’s wordcount: 5102
Current Hearts of Tabat wordcount: 119160
Total word count for the week so far (day 2): 10976
Total word count for this retreat: 57637
Worked on Hearts of Tabat, Bloodwarm Rain, “Blue Train Blues”
Works finished on this retreat: “California Ghosts,” “My Name is Scrooge,” “Blue Train Blues.”
Time spent on SFWA email, discussion boards, other stuff: 45 minutes

From Blue Train Blues, completed today in first draft form:

The next obstacle presented itself a few miles further on. Fog covered the road, and the car swam in and out of it, a submerged salmon leaping through foamy water, curls and tendrils swirling in its wake. My lord drove slower, but barely, and more than once we swerved to avoid an incautious cow or deer. I tried not to think of how many things stood too low to be spotted through the fog.

We ascended to a hilltop and saw a basin of fog in front of us, an immense white bowl. I started to say something about the odd flapping noise that was just starting to creep up on my consciousness but before I could begin, my lord shoved me sideways, then rolled in the opposite direction himself. A massive claw flashed in the space between us and rasped against the metal before the dragon swooped back upward.

“Hold tight.” We leaped down the hill and into the fog.

My lord steered with face tense, watching the road flash by mere feet from our front wheels, not slowing. Overhead we heard the flapping of the wings.

Then the hoot of a train, off to the right, somewhat ahead.

“What are you thinking, sir?” I asked. “That’s not the Blue Train. It’s the train to the western coast.”

“I know,” he said. “But the crossing is up ahead, I can hear it.”

“But not see it.” Fog thickened and lessened around us; sometimes I could see his resolute face, other times he was lost to me. Overhead those wings flapped, and sometimes fire coiled, once a great wash of it directly overhead accompanied by a foul, sulfurous stench. My cap had blown off my head many miles ago, and I felt the hairs atop my head singe and vanish.

“Hold tight!” my lord yelled over the roaring of the wind and if he added anything to that, it was lost in the howl of the train and the sudden flap of wings and then somehow we were soaring through space just ahead of the train, so close I could count every bar in the cowcatcher in front of it and there was a vast scream and crash as the dragon and the train collided, and then a whoosh of flame, exploding outside, that cleared the world of mist and revealed chaos.

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Retreat, Day 20

Beach AeEek, I thought I had been better about posting. At any rate, here I am still in California writing away. I had Wayne here Friday-Sunday, so no writing was done, but we really had just a delightful time with each other and both were very sorry to part when I dropped him off at the airport on Sunday.

Today’s totals:

Today’s wordcount: 5884
Current Hearts of Tabat wordcount: 119083
Total word count for the week so far (day 1): 5884
Total word count for this retreat: 52435
Worked on Hearts of Tabat, “Blue Train Blues”
Time spent on SFWA email, discussion boards, other stuff: 30 minutes

Besides working on “Hearts,” I have been finishing up “Blue Train Blues”, a steampunk set in the Altered America world, although over on the other side of the world, in their version of France, occupied by vampires. It’s not a pieceI’ve promised anyone, so it will probably go up on Patreon either this month or the next.

Here’s a section from it:
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Patreon Post: California Ghosts

Picture of two peopleThis post marks a change-up in my Patreon campaign – I will post content publicly. If you’re enjoying it and want to make sure it continues, please consider supporting my ongoing attempts with this publishing model! There are several levels of possible support, but you can do it for as little as a dollar a month.

I’m enjoying on retreat in California right now, which will explain what provoked this piece.
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Convention Schedule: Sasquan (WorldCon 2015, Spokane)

Stroll with the Stars
Thursday 09:00 – 09:45, Breezeway/Statue (CC)
A gentle morning stroll with some of your favorite authors, artists and editors. Meeting each morning at 9AM in the Breezeway between the INB Theater and the Convention Center (check your map), and returning in time for 10AM programming.
Stu Segal, David Gerrold, Vonda N. McIntyre, Cat Rambo, Lawrence M. Schoen, Stephen Segal, Tom Smith

SFWA Board Meeting
Thursday 10:00 – 18:00

Writers Workshop section 13
Friday 10:00 – 13:00, 201B (CC)
Fifty-plus entrants submitted speculative fiction manuscripts in advance to be constructively criticized by industry professionals. In this section, a few of these entrants go on the hot seat to hear what the pros have to say. All workshop sections are closed to non-participants.
Bud Sparhawk, Toni Weisskopf, Cat Rambo

Dreaming on the Diamond: A Look at Baseball in the Speculative Fiction Genre
Friday 14:00 – 14:45, 303A (CC)
Some of our best loved stories embrace America’s favorite pastime. How has the sport infiltrated the fantasy and science fiction genres? Are all baseball stories as nostalgic as Field of Dreams? Or are they more whimsy like Angels in the Outfield or Rhubarb? What about other sports?
Bradford Lyau, Patricia MacEwen, Cat Rambo, Rick Wilber, Bud Sparhawk

Reading – Cat Rambo
Friday 17:30 – 18:00, 303B (CC)

SFWA Business Meeting
Saturday 13:00 – 15:00, 300B (CC)

Kaffee Klatche – Cat Rambo
Saturday 16:00 – 16:45, 202A-KK2 (CC)
Join a panelist and up to 9 other fans for a small discussion. Coffee and snacks available for sale on the 2nd floor. Requires advance sign-up.

What New Pros Need to Know
Sunday 12:00 – 12:45, Conference Theater 110 (CC)
You’ve sold a few short stories. Your first novel is just coming out. The praise, the pans, the fans. How do you manage it all? What should you do to help your career along? What should you avoid? Here from people who have been there and done that, and hear how they got through it.
Cat Rambo (M), Wesley Chu, Wendy S. Delmater, Brandon Sanderson, Rhiannon Held

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Finetuning Patreon

Photo of a clock shaped like a Neko Cat, altered with the Percolator app.

One of my favorites is the First Pages workshop – come find out where to take your novel!

As some of you know, I started a Patreon campaign about a year ago. It’s worked pretty well, although I still need to put together the first year’s worth in ebook form to send to people.

I’m going to stick with it, particularly given that I get new ideas for short stories all the time (and generate a lot in the course of teaching), but I’m thinking about making some changes.

  1. The most important is making it so paid content isn’t just restricted to patrons. I’m going back and forth about this. Right now it feels like a subscription model, but if I go to public content, it seems less so. But what paid patrons would get along with the public posts are sneak peeks at drafts for outside markets, which would be free but accessible only to people supporting the paid stories. The drafts would be early ones, rather than late, and they also wouldn’t be getting paid for, which seems to be the main criteria editors apply to Patreon stories when ruling them out for acceptance. (This is a whole ‘nother long and interesting discussion, I think.)
  2. I recently switched from two stories a month to one and I’m going back to two.
  3. I need to remove the postcard incentive because I keep forgetting to send them, and figure out something else. Suggestions?

Today’s wordcount: 5476
Current Hearts of Tabat wordcount: 112800
Total word count for the week so far (day 2): 11487
Total word count for this retreat: 42856
Worked on Hearts of Tabat, finished “California Ghosts” and “I am Scrooge”
Time spent on SFWA email, discussion boards, other stuff: an hour

Classes that are coming up soon and still have room! All times are Pacific Time.

  • July 15 (Wednesday), 7-9 PM – First Pages Workshop Section 1
  • July 17 (Friday), 2-4 PM – Writing Your Way Into Your Novel, Section 2
  • July 19 (Sunday), 9:30-11:30 AM – First Pages Workshop Section 2
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Retreat, Day 12 or 13: Back in the Groove

Sourdough bread. Was way too dense and bland.

Sourdough bread. Was way too dense and bland.

Today’s wordcount: 6011
Current Hearts of Tabat wordcount: 108569
Total word count for the week so far (day 1): 6011
Total word count for this retreat: 37380
Worked on Hearts of Tabat, “Poppy”
Time spent on SFWA email, discussion boards, other stuff: an hour

Classes that are coming up soon and still have room! All times are Pacific Time.

Got up early, fed the chickens, ate my yogurt and drank my (overly-trendy kombucha). For those following along with interest regarding the sourdough adventures, the pancakes were divine but the bread was densely textured to the point where it sat in one’s stomach like wet gravel. I do know what I did wrong — I tried to adapt my no-knead bread recipe to use sourdough starter and I need to go back to square one and try a traditional recipe like this one or this one.

Those pancakes were awesome though. Here’s the recipe I used.

Here’s today’s excerpt, taken from Hearts of Tabat:
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Retreat, Days 9, 10 and 11 (Fermenting)

The SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) that makes the kombucha.

The SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) that makes the kombucha.

I spent the last couple of days wrestling with the plot more than actual writing, but I have gotten some done. Will start posting totals again tomorrow.

My kombucha SCOBY, packed meticulously for the trip in Tupperware and three layers of ziplock bags and packing tape, has recovered fully from its journey and produced two batches of kombucha for second ferments each time. I have mainly blackberry, because there’s a gazillion blackberries out back, but I am going to try some lavender and mint as well. I’ve found the store down at Santa Cruz full of kombucha varieties, go figure. My favorite so far is a lovely lavender melon that I am going to try to replicate.

I’ve also got a loaf of sourdough bread about to come out of the oven, and will proof some starter tonight for sourdough pancakes in the morning. I’ve never done any sourdough stuff other than Herman, so I’ll be curious, particularly since I tried using sourdough with this no-knead bread recipe. Exciting times here on writing retreat.

From “Poppy” (working title)

Poppy’s arms were strong and brawny, and as big around as a young birch tree, and capable of swinging the rosewood truncheon she kept behind the Amethyst’s bar with a solid thunk that would stop a belligerent drunk in his tracks, usually at the first blow, always by the second.

She’d inherited the wayside inn – “twice as far as the back of beyond” one traveler had called it – when her own parents were slain in the Shadow Wars and she’d taken over from old Dad, her mother’s father at the tender age of seventeen. By a quarter of a century later, old Dad was old indeed, and Poppy knew everything there was to know about the art of running an inn located somewhat remotely, it was true, but at least located on the lesser of the two main routes between the capital and Pickering-on-the-Beach.

Her hair was colored henna and brass, and she was a big woman, with a bigger laugh, one you could hear echoing down the road at night when you were tired of walking and heard her laughter, letting you know the inn was within shouting distance. A dozen bards had tried to teach her one musical instrument or another and she had taken to none but the pat-a-pat drums, and even then did not like to perform before others. While she’d taken lovers enough, she’d never cared to kindle with child, and then one thing happened and another, and before too long, she realized she was no longer capable of having a child in the usual way.

The way she learned it was this: she was on her way to the wellhouse in order fetch a pound of butter when a bear came shuffling out of the woods, rubbing its fur against the pines as it went, as shedding summer wool as it went, with the thicker, darker winter fur coming in underneath.

She paused and looked at it, unafraid but wary, and the bear looked back. Then it reared to its hind legs, pointed a paw at her, and growled out, the words barely understandable through bearish lips, “Woe to you, fruitless woman. With your womb dies the last of your grandfather’s line, and I have come to claim my curse.”

Poppy blinked.

“What?” she said, and dropped the butter.

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Retreat, Day 8 (Stuff about Plotting Novels)

Yesterday I got very little writing done, and instead worked on plotting. Ugh. I’ve reached that stage of the manuscript where I feel like I’m herding cats, and it seemed like time to make things make more sense.

Major Ingredients for Plotting

In starting, I had the following:

  • a strong idea of each major character’s story arc
  • the first book, which has some chronological overlap with volume 2
  • a lot of scenes in various stages — some complete, some partial, some only notes, all contained in Scrivener
  • a somewhat ragged and incomplete synopsis

And some things that made the process of plotting more complicated:

  • Complication #1 to plotting: multiple POVs, including some episodes that overlap in time. Arranging these is much harder than you would think.
  • Complication #2 to plotting: a couple of readers complained that the 1st book started slow. I wanted this one to grab and go.
  • Complication #3 to plotting: a feeling that the POVs must be balanced to some extent.

Figuring Out the Overall Structure: the Sketchbook Method
So I printed out the synopsis and got out my big sketchpad. I wrote the three chronological points that were most important from the first book on the page, roughly where I thought they’d fall in the book: one at the very beginning, one about a quarter way through, and one about half the way through.

At first I divided the page into three sections for three acts, but by the time I was done, there were five sections total. I think of them as “acts” in that I want them to begin at an interesting point, have the right mix of scenes from the different POVs, and finish in a way that feels like a mini-ending, a chance to think about what’s gone before and to prepare for what’s coming up.

Overall Outline

Overall Outline

As you can see, that first page eventually ended up looking like a bit of a mess (and right now the image keeps showing up sideways, for some inexplicable reason that I cannot figure out at the moment), but it let me figure out where some things had to happen and realize that I had to nail down where a particular character from the first book is at all times.

I started working with colored pencils in order to track the different main characters, but that fell away as I began arranging what I already had. But it’s handy to be able to see the story from a high altitude, the 10,000 foot view, so to speak, particularly in terms of making the story make sense. Because while the writer can — and probably should deviate from a straightforward chronology for anything but the least complicated of stories — every time they do it, they place a demand on the reader to jump the hurdle and bounce along into the next scene with them.

As far as what’s been written, I have it in Scrivener, that most indispensable of tools. My process lately has been to work on individual scenes in nothing at all like chronological order, but more in the order of ones that really will be fun to write first (this approach has the drawback of inevitably arriving at a final sludge of scenes you didn’t want to write, but you will find at that point that at least half of them are actually not necessary.) So I began splitting up the pieces that were actually multiple scenes crammed in one document because they’d all been part of the same writing sprint, and numbering each one.

Screenshot from Scrivener

Some of the numbered scenes

Breaking Things Down: Individual Acts

Taking my big sheet, I created a new one for each of the first four sections, and with each, tried to figure out the structure as far as the alternating voices went. I realized that what I had were two main points of view (Adelina and Sebastiano) and then a third one consisting of a brother and a sister (Eloquence and Obedience).

As I went through the manuscript, I began to sort the scenes into order, creating folders for the different POVs. While the scenes may not happen in the exact order they do in the folder, this gets me started putting scenes that will be close together into a single chunk.

Dividing acts into POV chunks

Dividing acts into POV chunks

And the main reason I want to have chunks like that, with multiple scenes from a single POV, rather than alternating POV every time I switch scenes, is that every time you move from one head to another, you bump the reader out of the story a little and remind them that they are reading, which is a cardinal sin.

Here are the individual act pages. As you can see, they’re messy and inexact, but they’re helping me sort out what goes where in a way that will then let me compile what I have into a document and start looking for the major holes, since filling them in is the next step.

Once I have those holes filled in, I’ll begin wrestling each chunk into a smooth form, and imposing a story arc of one kind or another on it.

Someone asked how I use Tarot cards in plotting. I use them as a way to figure out the major points and considerations for a scene or a chunk, by doing a simple Celtic Cross reading for the main character in that scene. If you’re not familiar with Tarot cards and that configuration for reading them, here’s better information on the spread, and I’ll blog sometime in the next couple days with a sample reading for a scene (but right now I should put in some actual ficiton wordcount).

Some SFWA and Class-related Stuff
In SFWA news, Todd Vandemark has put up the 1st of the videos he filmed at this year’s Nebulas, Steven Gould and I talking about joining SFWA. There will be new content on the channel released on a regular basis throughout the coming year, and I’m pleased to see that idea finally taking solid form.

Maggie Hogarth is onboard as the new Vice President and already hard at work. Look for some cool stuff coming up over the new year. :)

Finally, I’ve been doing some teaching from retreat and finding out that the wireless works fine. The Writing Your Way Into Your Novel class was terrific and gave me lots of ideas. This Saturday the 6 week Writing F&SF Stories starts. I’ve still got slots in that (as well as most of the other classes) and would be willing to talk about sliding scale or barter if you’re interested. If you’re interested, check out the list of classes here.

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