It's actually a Saturday afternoon. Yesterday was a Friday morning that felt like a Saturday morning because the deadline passing felt like a Friday - work's done, deadlines met, whoohoo, time to Relax!
Okay, so sometimes I look a little strange talking to myself and I lose track of what day it is. Big old professor, my dad, would get just as disoriented at times - because he was concentrating on something that took a lot of focus.
Rewrite on Strigler's Succubus is up to chapter 14. I am in the middle of polishing his House Janol Initiation - when our young mage-hero finds the magic he trusted that wasn't the Dark Side is just that alien and that lovely. This is where a fellow less ditzy than Luke meets an Obi-Wan that's less pompous and it's a slight paean to the idea of grand old ceremonial magick initiations - to The Magic Flute and Egyptian funerary rites, to Shaolin temples and Maori myth-dances, to all the beauty of ceremony itself. It is the one it is. The focus is on the initiate. The focus of the adept, who is at the moment actually a telepathic group-mind doing an intricate coordinated dance that is sometimes a group-mind and sometimes achieving a momentary fusion of identity that's rather mystical, is on welcoming a new initiate to their ancient order. Setting is at the fore. Setting and staging and drama is sacred drama in this chapter and it's all the wisers and elders in a very esoteric group focusing on making that young man remember his initiation and the life lessons in it. They are also helping him achieve another more dangerous one concurrent with it, he brought in his own spellwork as every one of them did at his or her own. They are archetypal good guys, these ancient adepts. They also have a lot of the qualities of laughing buddhas and mystics who celebrate joy and look for the real, tangible beauty in life. They're terrifying at first - and it's a roller coaster ride, it's the deliberate scariness of initiation. It's like taking the kids down in the kiva to break the kachinas. They are the people who know how everything works to the extent they do, most are comfortable with the idea that the known is finite and the infinite is unknowable, they're wise in some very modern ways.
Wise enough to let the initiate set his goals. Wise enough to give him the advice and expertise he needs - and hand him most of all that depth of tradition and history, that level of identity this guy just never had. It means something to human readers to be welcomed into a group with a lot of fuss. To move from being one of Them to one of Us, to share the in-jokes, to know all the little quirks and traditions that make the particular SF club in your own city always meet at that familiar restaurant and everyone cracks up if lemon pie gets mentioned, because years before a lemon pie wound up involved in some night that exploded in laughter and cracked off strings of puns Spider Robinson would envy.
This chapter's working on all levels, but it really needed this rewrite. Because the beauty and the meaning of that alien ceremony, something that rests on a ton of backstory and has its internal to the book meanings and shoves the plot forward ferociously, has to have that timeless quality that Shaolin temples and Anglican cathedrals and Maori myth-songs share when the content is none and all of those things. It's unearthly. Like those it is itself. Like those it could be nothing else and means exactly as it does, but it has to stir those feelings and what stirs feelings is poetry.
I tore up and mangled the paragraph description of the guiding adept. I had everything down all right. I had the adept visualized in my mind, the telepath who's channeling all the rest of the group who are kibitzing on the high ceremony. Going back to it on the reread - it was all there but the prose wasn't up to the task. It needed line editing. Most of all it needed line editing. I slashed whole unnecessary phrases and not one descriptive noun. I added a few details, I'd left myself room to and the Adept was hanging as clearly in my mind as if I saw the movie last night. I'm much happier with the rewrite. A lot of what I was trying to say with the ceremonial details is clearer. A lot of the clues as to who the unseen members of the group-mind are have been highlighted, something that remains background but it's vital to continuity. Series readers, once all the books in these worlds are available, will be able to read this out of order and speculate a little and pick up series arc backstory from the details of the formal House Janol Initiation.
If I do my job right as author, a reader should be able to pick up any of the books out of order and enjoy them, or at least the linked groups like trilogies or seven voyages of Stormrider or whatever, and just wander wherever they want to in the vast expanding series multiverse. There should always be enough in that volume to make that volume make sense, so that it's not like a middle volume of a trilogy that you really needed to have read the first and it isn't satisfying if you don't own the third. Looking at what's sitting unsold on my hard drive, I succeeded in that with some of them. I didn't with others. All of them are rough, because my new definition of Rough Draft is simply "It isn't in print yet."
I'm still facing the equivalent of, if I were Roddenberry, trying to sell Voyager when I don't know if the first season of the first series of Star Trek sold yet!
And you know, that isn't a bad thing? I'm glad I've done it. I'm glad I've written all of them and that I can do it. Because the one thing about this approach is that I will not ever wind up writing Return of the Revenge of the Son of Malarkey McGuffin.
Okay, maybe that's too good of a title for me not to write Return of the Revenge of the Son of Malarkey McGuffin because I do write comedy too. But if I do that it'll be intentional and it'll be the comedy microphone I pick up when I do that. I won't be chewing on a main premise of an epic series till it's like the flavorless dusty hard gum stuck under the edge of the bed, okay? I meditate on the stand alone qualities of series books - and if I can do this right, if I can structure it that way, the immense warehouse backlog of good solidly written rough novels IS marketable and I can try the Trotline Approach to making a dang living off of it. For all I know, Blood Junkie is the one that might hit the market.
Hm. What's this rumination leading to? A rewriting habit. An inventory and a look at the warehouse here in my hard drive. A recognition that if I can do this with Strigler's Succubus, maybe in the next few months I should get on a regular monthly schedule of picking out those other books on a basis of 'closest to standing on its own as a stand-alone' and do them up with this treatment. A thorough rewrite. A nice proposal package and synopsis. A well written query with a good hook line. Then just trust that whatever I manage to kick open the door with, I can follow it up with more.
It matters to me logistically that I can do this in only a few intensive days of real work.
It matters that if I did get a nibble, I could respond that quickly and not lose the opportunity. I am beating sense into my own head right now. I need to do that, because while I'm writing I get more of the 'days flow past timelessly and I'm just enjoying what I'm doing' attitude of a Lochannan. Not terribly practical in a day to day sense. But if I can make the transition to the pro lifestyle and use some common sense laying in my personal infrastructure, then I can get to a point where I don't have to pay that much attention to that any more and go back to 'well, I live and I write and the cons and boards are my social life and I'll marry someday in my moiety and eat at Denny's with the fen and life's good.'
I know where and how I want to live, and it will take a certain amount of success to get to a point where my disability is just a minor inconvenience, no more impediment than blindness is to a musician. A colorful point about someone who'd have been what he is whether or not he had the disability. I do not like the way I have to spend so much time and effort within a social circumstance where my disabilities are what defines who I am to the people I deal with. There are many, many times when I envy the normally abled detective novelist security guard who rode up and down the freight elevator in San Francisco working on his fourth book, when his life seemed like the height of serenity and comfort. He was well on his way to being able to leave the security uniform behind and just write detective novels full time. He had a job to keep from worrying about economic security and he chose the dullest job he could do, but one that had a theme and atmosphere that reminded him of the context of his stories. Deserted banks and office buildings at night are atmospheric for detective fiction.
I am not my disabilities. I do not like being dehumanized and handled and treated by people as a cripple. Yeah, I have limits. Yeah, I do have to get around them and I'm rather clever in how I do it sometimes. Yeah, I have a few special needs in day to day life and some things ordinary people take for granted are that difficult and sometimes not worth doing. Especially if they're for entertainment - by definition anything done for fun ought to actually be enjoyable while you're doing it or it's not worth the trouble. Who I am isn't the cripple. Who I am is the writer - and I'm just lucky none of those disabilities prevent me from doing the one thing that does matter to me that much.
In a strange little satori during this rewrite, I'm actually beginning to feel something I've spent months trying to pound into myself. I wanted to enjoy rewriting. I wanted to find this part of the process just as exciting and satisfying as the rest of it. That is how I will have a happy life. I don't want to be stuck regularly with an ugly miserable chore that I have to get out of the way to get back to the fun part. What I want is to appreciate every part of the process for what it is and come into a natural harmony that I get a whole lot done without ever noticing what time it is. Shiela Viehl commented last night in the Friday Think Tank at Forward Motion that it's working because I'm managing to keep focus.
She is so right and I am so happy it worked. I'm daring to think about the rewrites on thirty-plus finished roughs positively, because if I can enjoy doing this one, that's a matter of - like framing all the artworks already painted or painting the house that I built myself, it's constructive and it's another neat intricate skill-pride part of my life to do it well, better than I did yesterday and not as well as I will next year. One of the perpetual kicks is just competence. Confidence built on real skills, being able to trust myself not to screw up something that has become easy through practice.
I think what slaughtered my self esteem for years and years was looking at things I wanted to do and didn't know how yet. I wanted it that badly and didn't know how to make it turn out that way. The esoteric mysteries of the ancient pro writers are one by one becoming less mysterious - how to make a witty character appealingly sarcastic with a good line on the tip of his tongue. My character started mouthing off more in the rewrite! I already knew what was going on and he had a chance to think up a good line and he did. Right on beat. Little triumphs like that are making this a joy to get done... and yeah, for me the Guild Arcane is and always will be SFWA. I don't care if it has feet of clay and internal politics and some annoying people in it. There's no group of human beings on this planet that doesn't have some annoying people in it and sometimes they're funny. When I earn my way into that particular trade organization, it means something to me. If it went so sour that I never wanted to attend another meeting, I'd still hang on to the card and remember friends and mentors now dead who did welcome me into it a long time ago, and it would matter. Heck, if I get to a point where I don't have to focus my life this hard on breaking in, there's something I can do about 'club politics gone wrong.' Like mix into them and take my turn getting things done. The tempests in a teapot get silly. There are people upset that J. K. Rowling, who did a great little children's series, won a Hugo Award for the quality of her work.
Rowling's a Cinderella like David Gerrold was. A single mother wrote some good books and wrote herself off the dole by selling good books and she won the jackpot in the Literary Lottery - and I read the first of her series. It's exactly what I expected it to be from the size of the splash. Hello, here's another Wizard of Oz, another series that has got a level of outrageous British comedy punctuating a classic story and the kid's a sympathetic hero and his friends are fascinating and his troubles are larger than life. It has its themes and they're heroic, it has its wit and that's wonderful, it's memorable. It's well done. Likely to stick as a Classic. I don't see any horrifying problem with a children's Classic being seen as either literature or award winning speculative fiction because children are people! Everyone used to be one! Everyone was once part of that automatic underclass of people whose lives are not their own surrounded by adults who all have their own agendas, most of whom abuse that authority in minor ways without thinking or major ones that no adult would put up with for more than a day on the job. Abuse of authority is a human topic, it's one of those vast enduring themes. Personal petty cruelty is one of the subtler problems of human life and if it's a question of our times, that's only because these are times in which a lot of what went unquestioned through most of history actually gets questioned.
I don't think of SF writers as better than romance writers or mystery writers or Western writers or Western horse trainers or American football stars. Okay? There's my view of it. Generically, the way the world's economy is shifting, it's already moved to a service economy and something beyond that is glimmering in the promise of robot labor. The promise that everyone who's broke noticed about robot labor from the start of industry: real physical prosperity for the human race and the elimination of slavery, serfdom and other forms of gruelling human subjugation. Robots do not feel the whip. Robots, other than the fantastic sentients of Asimov's stories or mine or anyone else's, who are people if we build them and children of the human race, the ones that aren't sentient are less vulnerable than animals. They are just things, the robot that built your car is just a neat machine like the car that's doing some of the work it would otherwise take human beings to do and that redefines work. That redefines the meaning of work.
The things robots can't do include writing novels, painting murals and designing them, creative activity, Maori myth-songs, the wealth of things that a curious intelligent predatory race finds to do with its playtime including depth spirituality and high ritual. The human beings in hunting gathering cultures spent about 90% of their time in cultural activities and the intricate complexities of tribal life, about 10% in literally assuring physical survival needs. The talk about a Service Economy is one thing - but beyond that, there's a lot that isn't waiting on people in restaurants. Yet the way the world works, so much of the entertainment industry narrows to Superstar or Nothing.
I read an article interviewing Patrick Neilsen Hayden, the editor who's considering my book among the 'dozen or so interesting things by new authors' that he reads in background to consider for Tor... in which he gave me a reality check about bad market conditions. In his view, things are not as bad as they were back in the seventies when I was a messed up college kid who couldn't write - a level that once supported 35 or 40 full time professionals now supports several hundred, but the number of Superstars is about consistent. I have to ask myself - would I honestly be happy without Superstardom if I've gotten my life together to the point that I can comfortably live on what I earn?
That put things in perspective for me, and so did the thought of Jack Haldeman's life and lifestyle. His house, his wife's crafts, his convention appearances and general happiness in life. Take care of the necessities first. Sure, it will be fun to have vast wealth and power if I ever win The Big Game like Rowling, and it is a game of skill. If I write that well, I've got a shot at that anytime over any book. But I will not measure my skill by my economic success either - I will not measure my self by my economic success. I won't shoot low, because the big Lotto Win fantasy of bestseller status, even if it's fleeting, is something I could strategically use to dig in and ensure that I'd make it through any low tide periods in my career. I won't assume any flash in the pan successes are enduring unless they come down that way. I'll take luck for luck but load the odds in my favor - but the Haldeman lifestyle is mine if I just do a good job at this job and do it consistently well every time.
I could wind up in a trailer home or a mansion. I know if I wound up with the mansion someday, I might not sell the trailer home, might just keep that and rent it out cheap or swap it off to some new writer that needs the elbow room and time to get started. Aside from which, when I get the trailer home it's not going to be remotely standard. That's where a thousand offstage hobbies come in and it winds up fantastic especially on the interior - all this nomadic textile stuff and refined through many moves furnishings, my physical culture, will extend to the freedom to paint, wallpaper, panel and decorate the walls. Remove the doors and replace with neat crafted doors, some my work, some things that I swapped for or bought from other artisans.
That trailer home will be a tiny little palace, like the home of an artist I knew back in New Orleans - because that much physical luxury is available to anyone who takes the time to put that into their dwelling place.
It doesn't have to be like anyone else's - yet a lot of my friends would recognize it in the moment they stepped through the door. How much do the physical artifacts of daily living reflect culture? How much of 'modern' styles are bleak, oversimplified, stark and occasionally downright hostile? The shame of living in prosperity when others live in real starvation pervades many modern designs. It's a self conscious attempt at false humility, when I look at culturally rich people their physical artifacts reflect that culture. My house will look a bit as if the elves and vampires and fairies had a hand in its design, that will make a lot of people who love the books walk in and feel right at home by way of unspoken heraldry. I'm proud of my work. I might take a wall and make up the heraldic banners of all my heroes on the sewing machine some silly week, get into Fannish Physical Culture and savor the fact that I'm the author, I'm definitely someone who belongs in the fan club. If they ever make a movie, I'll take home a few toys from the set and put those up on the trophy wall too. Because any kind of symbolic hunting that leaves no one hurt and a bunch of people happier than they were if I didn't go do it, that's a dang good way for me to make a living!
That's enough of a rambly break. I'm going back to Piarra to finish the House Janol Initiation. Y'all have a good one...
Robert and Ari >^..^<