Monday, October 19, 2009

Snow? On October 18?

Yes, indeed. I was driving to the store in the rain—and it didn't really even feel that cold out—when I noticed that some of those raindrops were falling too slowly, and splatting too big on the windshield. By the time it was over, we had a steady fall of inch-and-a-half wide snowflakes. (Two to three centimeters, for you metric folk.)

Just a little joke the warming globe is playing on us, I guess. Or not. (This is not disproof of global climate change, by the way. One of the predictions of the warming of the Earth is that climate patterns may behave in unexpected ways.) For all I know, snow in New England in mid-October is well within the range of our crazy weather, anyway. But it sure felt weird. I was just pondering taking the air conditioners out of the windows, not an hour before.

Our Ultimate SF Workshop began tonight (okay, last night at this point), and it looks like we have a great group of aspiring writers, including people from a variety of walks of life. We almost cancelled the workshop last week because we only had three confirmed students. Today we had eleven confirmed, and one more possible late-joiner. Full house! Lots of good workshopping ahead of us.

"People tend to look at successful writers, writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially, and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated. I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. —Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." —Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tale of the Novels: Star Rigger's Way

Picking up the thread I began a couple of months ago, I'm going to continue spinning out some of my recollections of the writing of each of my novels—how they came about, what sticks in my memory of the creation process.

I talked before about my first novel, Seas of Ernathe, which was also my first novel of the Star Rigger universe—but not the first story set in that realm. That was "Alien Persuasion," a short story that I sold to Galaxy magazine and which appeared in 1975, prior to the novel. (Jim Baen, years before he went on to found Baen Books, bought my second published story.) That was a joyous breakthrough for me. The joy was tempered by my discovery that Galaxy's publisher was seriously behind in paying its writers. Nevertheless, they did publish it, and paid me for it, if somewhat late. (I was still waiting for payment for my first story, to Fiction magazine, at that time—so Galaxy was, I think, the first publisher to actually send me a check.) The story came out with lovely scratchboard illustrations by Freff, one of which I later bought from the artist. It's hanging on my office wall right now.

What does this have to do with my second novel, Star Rigger's Way? Well, after finishing Seas of Ernathe, I was casting about for the next thing to write. I had gotten an agent, Richard Curtis, who was waiting for me to float a proposal. I thought about "Alien Persuasion," a story about a human star-rigger and an alien rigger who had to learn to work together to survive. It seemed to me that what I had so far was the beginning of a story, not the full story. So I outlined a storyline to follow, noting that a rewritten version of the short work would form the first several chapters of the novel, and sent it off to my agent. Time passed. I had, during the writing of the first novel, moved from Providence, Rhode Island to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was doing odd work to keep body and soul together. (Eventually, I worked for UPS as a sorter on the night shift, a job I truly loathed.)

In 1976 or '77, I was wandering around a local SF convention, Boskone, not knowing much of anyone. I had one novel published or about to be, and felt like a fish out of water—a pro, sort of, but not really. I eventually found myself in a quiet room, chatting with a writer and an agent. The writer was Joe Haldeman, whom I had just met at a SFWA business meeting. After a while, Joe and the agent got up to go to a publisher's party, and I meekly asked if I could tag along. Sure, they said. We went up the elevator, to a room somewhere. They went in. The host of the party, standing by the open door, stopped me and said, "I’m sorry, this isn't an open party." (In those days, closed publisher parties were much more the rule.) Then he looked at my name badge. "Jeffrey Carver," he said. "The star rigger story? I have your book proposal on my desk at Dell Books. I'm planning to call your agent on Monday to make an offer. I'm Jim Frenkel. Come on in." And that's how I got into my first publisher party and learned at the same time that I'd sold my novel.

I don't remember much about the writing of it. I've written in "Of Consoles and Dragons' Claws" some of my recollections. Mainly I remember that I was tentatively feeling my way into a career path of writing in much the same way Gev Carlyle, the hero of Star Rigger's Way, was making his way into his career of star rigging. Rather similar, the process of writing stories, and of steering starships in the Flux through the power of imagination—as my friend Jane Yolen later pointed out to me.

I had no idea that I would be writing a series of novels in the star rigger world. I was taking things one day at a time, one story at a time. This was a good beginning. The Science Fiction Book Club picked up the novel, and that got it in front of many more readers than the paperback alone would have. Years later, Tor reprinted it, and I had the chance to do a thorough line edit of the text. And now, just last spring, I went through it one more time, for the Ereads ebook. And rather to my surprise—I really enjoyed reading it again.

If you get the chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it, too.

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Joe Haldeman Update: Good News

Things are looking much better in Joe's recovery. According to his wife Gay, he's out of intensive care and in a rehab facility. He's able to sit up, eat a little, talk a little, and—according to Gay—smile a lot. I'm guessing he's really happy to be alive and kicking, and surrounded by his wife and friends. I expect he has a ways to go on the road to recovery, but it's all just so much more hopeful now.

Meanwhile, I'm settling into the business of teaching a university class, and continuing to enjoy working with the students there. Next week, they'll be handing in rough drafts of their short stories, and we'll be dissecting them (in a nice way) in workshop sessions. I got my MIT employee card—I look like part of the maintenance staff—and put it right to work at the MIT Humanities and Sciences Library. There was a book I wanted to use for next week's class, and they didn't have it. Some hunting around established that it was available in quasi-ebook format, and darned if they didn't get it for me to read on my computer in just a couple of days. (The interface to read it is atrocious—the people at netlibrary and the publishers who work with them should join the 21st Century and learn how to make real ebooks—but that's not the fault of the folk at the library. My hat's off to them for being so helpful.)

Meanwhile (again), my own Ultimate SF Workshop is gearing up to start this weekend. Craig (Gardner) and I weren't sure if we'd have enough people to run it, but we delayed the start by a week, and that seems to have made the difference.

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