Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Blog Scum

My last blog entry generated more than a dozen spam comments, most of them probably deposited by blog-prowling robot programs. Thank you, you jerks, for trying to ruin something that other people are supposed to enjoy.

Following advice from Blogspot, I have changed the comments settings to require "word verification" -- meaning that you have to read a word in an image and type it in before you can leave a comment. I'm sorry, because this will be a pain for any of you wanting to leave comments. (A pain for me, too. I'm not exempt.) But it seems to be the only way to stop the scum spam robots.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

. . . and I'm Taking the Cat

Okay, I've survived a month of house guests (hi! very nice house guests!), home renovation, a new back yard construction project dreamed up by my wife and her dad, children who want to stay up all night "writing" (read, playing computer games), and a new, incomprehensible passion of my wife for somehow finagling a way to buy as "investment property" a house that's laid out like something between Hogwarts and the Crooked House built by the Crooked Man. I have somehow managed to keep my sanity, though you could safely say that I haven't gotten very much writing done during this time. But now...

Now, my daughter announces that she's found a way to get free bagpipe lessons, and she wants to get on board. Bagpipe lessons!

That's it. I can take no more. I'm acting on my long-standing threat.

I'm moving to a hotel—and I'm taking the cat.

Friday, August 19, 2005

New Movie Showing Powers of Ten

Some of you may remember the Eames film "Powers of Ten," which dramatically showed changes of scale from the microscopic to the cosmic. I don't think you can view the film on the web, though you can read about it and see other stuff on their web site.

Well, there's a java applet from Florida State University called "Secret Worlds: The Universe Within," which you can view on the web, and it's a very dramatic demonstration of the same concept—from the cosmos to the quark. Take a look at it, then show it to a young person. Or an old person. Or even your spouse (which is how I heard about it).


Saturday, August 13, 2005

Writing Question #8: When to Rewrite?

This is a question Harry raised: When you're writing a story, is it better to rewrite as you go—getting the beginning right, for example, before you move on to the next scenes—or is it better to get the whole story out, no matter how rough the draft, and go back and rewrite it later?

As is usual with writing questions, the answer is: It depends. It depends on what works better for you, and it depends on the particular situation.

In general, I favor the "get it all down first" approach to writing—because you have a better chance of writing it all out in a creative burst, or a least a sustained creative flow, rather than letting the editor in your head slow you down and maybe even stall you before you ever really get going. On the other hand, some writers don't let go of a page (or a scene, anyway) until they've polished it to their satisfaction. I've heard that this is Orson Scott Card's approach, and he's certainly no slouch as a writer. (I didn't hear it from Scott Card himself, but I did hear it from a friend who heard him say it. So apply your own standards of credibility to me as a source on this one.) Most writers I know well, though, tend to plow ahead, unless there's something that's really bothering them about what they've already written.

I actually use a modified form of "get it all down." I show my work to my writing group as it gets written, a chapter or several chapters at a time. I do not, however, inflict my raw first draft on them. I get it down, then before I send it to them, I go back and do an edit pass to clean it up some and make it more like what I was intending to say the first time. Sometimes doing editing on yesterday's work is a good warm-up to creating today's work. But I try not to indulge too much in that.

Here's the thing. What most people have the most trouble with is the story structure: getting the bones laid out in a way that makes sense, is interesting and entertaining, and—if you're lucky or good—even compelling. And the structure is easiest to see when you have the whole story in front of you, for good or bad. It's very easy—and God knows I fell into this trap over and over as a beginning writer—to fuss and fume over little points of style, getting the descriptions just right, getting the words to flow in a pleasing way, tweaking dialogue, and all the while overlooking the fact that your basic story is flawed. Maybe it doesn't go anywhere, or the motivations don't hold up, or you've only got a piece of a story or a mood piece. You become so involved in the minutia of rewriting line by line that you miss the larger flaws altogether. (Reason number 3 for being in a writing group or workshop; your colleagues will help you catch that.)

Now, using this method can mean that you have a hell of a lot of revising and rethinking to do when you go back to rewrite. That, in fact, is precisely the situation I'm facing right now with Sunborn. I have tons of notes for revision that I compiled over the course of the first draft, and I have a fair number of chapters that I might have spent time polishing, when I see now in the context of the whole book that I need to cut them drastically, or perhaps out altogether. It doesn't make the rewrite fun, but it does (I think, for me) offer the greatest chance of success in the end. Eternity's End was a mess in its first draft, and so were many of my other books.

On the other hand, when I wrote Neptune Crossing, I got about sixty pages in and said, this just isn't working. I threw it away and started over. (I'd originally started to write it in first person, and I changed to third person, among other things.) But that wasn't a case of rewriting early; that was a case of cutting my losses.

Based purely on my own experience, I'd say that for most new writers still trying to get a handle on the craft, it's best to say, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." And then go back and see what you've done, and don't be afraid to change it radically if that's what it needs. Sometimes, though, you'll be surprised at how well you did. Those are the good days.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Acting Footnote

The irony of my little acting job, of course, is that I'm following in the footsteps of both my daughters. And for that matter, in the footsteps of my 7-year-old nephew Garrett, who recently appeared in a movie on the Hallmark Channel. And now I find (see comments, next entry down) that one of my fellow actors in the cast list is a friend and acting-buddy of my daughters. Do you suppose we'll be discovered by a Hollywood agent?

They'rrrrre Gonna Put Me in the Moviiiies!

They’re gonna make a big star out of me . . . All I have to do is act naturally. Which is true. Sort of.

The owner of the Regent Theater, where Bye Bye Birdie was performed, approached me after a rehearsal and asked me if I'd be interested in doing a short acting stint. Very short. It seems I look just right for a character in a small indie film he's producing, based on a play he wrote (and which was performed at the theater) about teenage homelessness. I said, "Umm..." and he told me more. It would only take one day, because the character is just in one scene, and only has a few lines. "Well..." I said, and before I knew it I was in the cast. I joined in on the first read-through with the rest of the volunteer cast (which includes a couple of professional actors, some acting students, and some people like me). So now I'm trying to let the character percolate into my brain.

I'm playing Pops. A street bum.

I'll definitely keep you posted on the progress of my career in film.

Summer Stuff

We've been entertaining a young nephew and niece in our house for the last few days, which has been great fun, a real change of pace, and helps explain why I feel so tired at the end of the day. Actually got to the beach in Gloucester—first real summer thing I've done this year (unless you call home repair and mowing the lawn summer stuff)—and let me tell you, that water was cold! The beach was beautiful, though, and it always restores me to see the ocean. Today we took the Boston harbor boat out to George's Island and traipsed around the old fort. It was fun. And kudos to my daughters, who were a great help in keeping up with their two very energetic young cousins.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Planet orbiting multi-star system

I've edited my last entry, adding a couple of links to interesting articles about the discovery of a planet orbiting a three-star system. (See just below.)

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Tenth Planet?

The discovery of the new planet 2003 UB313 is one of the cooler pieces of science news so far this year. Assuming, of course, that it's eventually called a "planet" and not given some more boring designation. I'm with the leader of the discovery team, Mike Brown, who says that the word "planet" has a cultural meaning as well as a scientific meaning. The public hasn't taken kindly to suggestions that Pluto be downgraded from a planet to a Kuiper Belt Object; I don't either. I suppose I'm just being sentimental.

I also like the fact that the new planet is 45 degrees out of the plane of the ecliptic. I say it's about time we had a planet that wasn't so conformist and hide-bound. (And now that we know there are planets outside the plane of the nine, I'm betting we're going to find a bunch more of them.)

This is almost as good as the discovery earlier this year of a planet orbiting a three-star system. As an SF writer, I always found it annoying to hear scientific experts say, "Forget it—there won't be planets around binary and trinary star systems (except maybe Tatooine)—the orbits will be too unstable." To which my answer, under my breath was, "Oh yeah? We’ll see." Which is more or less my answer to the argument that we'll never find a practical means of interstellar travel. I consider it a challenge when I'm told something's impossible.

Click to read a very interesting article about the crazy business of naming solar system objects.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 01, 2005

Galactica, Bye Bye Birdie, and Joint Compound

Between being busy at play performances, and being up to my elbows in joint compound at home, I think I forgot to mention that Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries has been approved by the studio—so I think I can say with reasonable confidence that it's on track for publication by Tor Books in February of 2006. (That really means January, in case you're not familiar with publishers' calendars.)

The girls were on Channel 4 TV here in Boston Friday night (late night news), only we didn't see it because we hadn't gotten the word about when it was running. We heard about it from friends who happened to watch the news. It was a short piece about online learning through the Virtual High School, and their experience taking month-long courses this last month. Hope we get to see it sometime.

Labels: ,