I’ve been holding on to this one for a while. The following post contains geopolitics (not party politics), so if that bothers you, feel free to skip out.
Me, since I write books rooted in geopolitics? I’ve been rapt. I am not a citizen of the UK or the EU, and I’m not a resident, either, so I didn’t feel quite right about campaigning for either side of the current excitement. Those of you in the UK already have too many people telling you what to do–far be it for me to add to the confusion. I’ve only seen bits and snatches of the propaganda war going on over this campaign, but from this side of the pond, it looked pretty goddamn ugly all around.
Oh, man, what a difference a few days can make!
Shortly after my most recent post, I went into a bit of a tail spin over one of the issues that has tripped me up time and again with this book, and this series.
By way of background:
I initially envisioned The Antithesis Progression, as a gigantic, epic, be-all-end-all cold war spy thriller in space. It would cover several books, and would tell the story of the first interplanetary war from the point of view of the skulduggerous thugs and spies who did the shadow work to start it and keep it under control.
It was going to be high-energy, high-stakes, breathless suspense, and I was going to set it apart from the bulk of the spy genre with strong characterizations, which I hoped would lend it more human stakes.
I had some models in mind for those human stakes–Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth was a major one–but depite that, it was basically supposed to be a marriage of Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum, with just a little extra leavening.
Great idea, right? Well, I thought so at the time.
But I Had This Problem
About 20% of the way into writing book 2, I stalled out. Pretty hard. It drove me crazy–I thought it was because I was podcasting Down From Ten at the time. Then, when I got going again, things were really slow. I figured it was because the book was so big and complex, and it kept getting bigger and more complex as I went.
When book 2 wrapped up, I was ecstatic, but when it came time to start book 3 a few months later, I stalled out. And I kept stalling out every time I came back to it, year after year, until it became this big singularity of artistic paranoia.
I wondered if I’d lost my mojo, but I was writing books left and right, so I figured I was just growing into the rest of the series. Last year I finally mustered up the determination to kick this thing’s ass once and for all. Stare down the terror and intimidation and teach this story who’s boss.
The result has been this blog. And, as you can see by the stops and starts I’ve been running into over the course of this endeavor, it’s been only middlingly successful–the book is getting written, but it’s proving exceptionally difficult compared to the rest of the writing I’ve done in the last couple years.
And it’s been driving me crazy. So crazy, that on Saturday…well, I had a little bit of a meltdown.
What Is This Thing?
One of the questions that’s dogged me about this series from the beginning is: “What is it?”
It’s been a nightmare to brand it for release. My publisher at AWP has had a hell of a time trying to do a series re-brand, because it’s not space opera, and it’s not HardSF, and it’s…well, it doesn’t seem to fit anywhere comfortably.
And, as I’ve grown as a writer, it’s stopped being just a publishing problem, it’s become a creative problem.
Thrillers have a particular structure and set of conventions. So do spy novels. So do political thrillers. And that’s what I’ve been trying to write.
But what’s come out, since book 1, has been something different, and I’ve been creatively at war with myself since the beginning of book 2, as I’ve been aware, on some level, that what I was producing was not matching up with what I was trying to do. I couldn’t put a label on it.
And, on Saturday, I hit that wall again. I’m up over 50,000 words, and I’m a little less than a quarter of the way through the story I was intending to tell in this book. That means this book will be another 200,000+ word doorstop–and that’s not a length that’s suitable for a thriller or a spy novel. Not even close. And I got…bent out of shape about it.
Fortunately, I had this mini-meltdown in the presence of my most excellent publisher, Kitty NicIaian.
When I was done, she had a thoughtful look on her face, and after a moment she said:
“You know, more than anything else, this series is like North & South in space.
The scales fell from my eyes, and I finally beheld Antithesis in all its undisguised glory. Not as a thriller, not as a spy novel, not even as a political mystery story…
But as another thing entirely–one of the oldest, and most popular genres of literature in the western world:
Pillars of the Earth, North and South, The Winds of War, Brideshead Revisited, Roots, The Godfather, Dune, Fall of Giants, War and Rememberance, War and Peace, these are some great examples of a genre that stretches all the way back to the foundational litereature of the western world.
And, growing up, it was my favorite genre. More than mystery or SF or Fantasy, which I devoured voraciously.
And it never once occurred to me that I was writing one.
I spent the next day wandering around saying “Family saga. Wow. How bout that?”
And the creative barriers were evaporating in front of me.
Since then, I’ve written about five thousand words–as many words as I posted for net gain in the whole of May.
Those words did come at the expense of one chapter that wound up not mattering, and a lot of notes that I wrote through and incorporated in.
So, all in all, I’m posting a net gain for the last few days of 1157 words. Not grand. But oh man, they’re coming so much easier.
Onward and upward! For the first time since April, I feel like I have a prayer of finishing this series by December or January.
OBTW, for now I’m keeping the word-o-meter set at a target length of 120,000 words to finish, because I have no idea what this new awareness will do to how the book unfolds. In the future, I may have to re-set it for a higher target word count.
June is here! Summer has brought wonderfulness! An end to writer’s block! An end to the endless irritation that seems to saturate May every year!
First item of news, which I’ll have a proper announcement about tomorrow, is that I’m in a new book bundle.
The theme of the bundle is “Not Only Humans.” It’s got some great stuff in it, from science fiction to mysteries to fantasies, all of which feature characters or plots that are strongly influenced by the presence of non-human actors (you know, like aliens, vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc.)
Check it out for yourself by clicking here
Now, on to the writing…
Totalling up the word count for May on Antithesis I get a grand total of….
Dismal. Absolutely dismal, I tell you. So dismal that I almost decided to stay up another hour just to beat that monthly total in one evening. Might do that tomorrow, just to prove the point.
I mean, sure, yeah, I spent most of the month sick and dealing with the fall-out from being sick, but that only exacerbated a deeper problem that I was trying to avoid:
I was fighting major project block. I’d written myself into a corner. Every time I tried to write myself out, it felt forced and read false. I cared too much about the storyline that I was having trouble relaxing and just writing it.
Which storyline, you ask? It revolves around a new character who’s involved in a rather interesting faction that is in the process of turning culty. They’re going to have a big role to play in the proceedings. I eventually figured out that I was experiencing a weird kind of shyness about going for the gusto with this new character.
Once I realized that was going on, I took a few days off and went back and read through a boatload of material on the Manson family. Particularly court transcripts, court videos, and a bunch of videos with Squeaky Fromme, Patricia Krenwinkle, Susan Atkins, et.al. There is a gestalt to cult movements at a certain stage of development that is very difficult to get right, and it’s one I used to be very familiar with. Somehow, I’d lost touch with since leaving the San Francisco area that I reconnected with, and that re-invigorated my culty characters.
Once I finally broke that dam this morning, the words started flowing. I wound the day on a really good note, left myself in a great place to pick up tomorrow, and rounded out the day by recording another ten episodes for the next block of the Nanocast.
Finally a respectable word count today. I made 3345 without really breaking a sweat. Now, to make that an everyday thing again.
Starting word count: 49282
Ending word count: 52627
Oi. Well, May is shaping up to be kind of a shit show. Personal crap is keeping me away from the keyboard most of the time, which is making me go stir crazy. Add to that a lot of client work (which does pay the rent, so I can’t complain much) and illnesses going around the house, and I’ve gone to bed most nights wondering whether I’m just a lazy writer.
Well, I am a lazy writer, but I wonder if I’m lazier than I gave myself credit for.
The net result was that over week and a half starting at my last blog entry, I got a grand total of 820 new words done, in a single writing shift on the thirteenth.
Then, two nights ago I got fed up with myself and got back to it. I knocked out that chapter that was killing me (finally) with a proper three-thousand word evening…
…only to lose about half of that work in a vicious conspiracy between the gods of computer crashing and the gods of autosave (who were evidently out having drinks when the computer crashing gods came around).
So, last night I looked at the manuscript, despaired, and went to the recording booth to do more client work.
Today was different.
Today I spent the bulk of the day working on the next block of Nanocast episodes which will post starting tomorrow. Then I went to bed for a nap that wound up being rather longer than I expected, then I returned to the keyboard and broke through the mental block, recapturing that lost scene and drawing even with my previous progress.
Not a lot of words, but it’s something. Gross gain of 1500, net gain of 820 due to cutting out notes on the manuscript and other misselany.
Things are back in full swing here. The day was packed, end-to-end, with lovely, lovely work.
First shift for me actually started out with trying to get the pup worn out. I got about three miles of walking in, which is less than I’ve gotten accustomed to but was just about what the post-injury knee could comfortably take. On the upside, the pup got about twelve miles of running in as a result of a very stubborn little orange ball that just would not stay with any of her humans, despite her fervent attempts to keep it from escaping into the surf.
Hey, what can I say? It kept her busy enough that I could actually hatch some evil plans with a potential client who joined me on the walk, and then go on to hatch further evil plans with another writer who was along for the stroll.
And the agate-hunting wasn’t bad either.
All in all, a good way to start off the day.
After I got home, there was a good solid AWP board meeting where She Who Must Not Be Named and I got all our in-house evil plans hashed out for the month. We finally figured out how to hang war boards in the office lofts, so the final part of our Evil Plan Management System is in place (huzzah!). Turns out that the evil plans really are ticking over–the amount left to do is shrinking at a glorious, if alarming, rate. I may soon have to cope with the problem of not being behind on anything.
A little intimidating, but I think I just might be up for it.
Once we had a plan, we hit the books.
Well, She Who Must Not Be Named hit the books. Suave Rob 3, to be precise. She set up on the couch with the manuscript and started her proof-and-continuity pass over the thing. Trixie noticed she was at work, so helpfully occupied the other half of the couch so that Kitty would have a place to put the pages she’d finished with. I caught a glimpse of it when I came downstairs to discover the collaboration-in-progress:
Me? I finished up some video production work and dove into some 3D graphics training for a while. Getting my skill-set updated to include character modeling and animation, in anticipation of a big project later this year.
Around 2AM I shifted gears, and set down to do my writing. I got about a thousand words down, hit a wall, threw them all out, got another thousand down, threw those out, and backed up to the beginning of the chapter and took another run at it. I might have to wind up abandoning this storyline for a while and coming back to it later. There’s a piece I haven’t been able to find yet.
On the other hand, I’ve left it in a place where I just might be able to run out the system. Just as I was wrapping up, I realized that my problem is that I’ve been resisting adding a new important character to the mix, because I’m afraid of losing track of all the moving pieces. So, tomorrow, I’m going to bite the bullet and take one more run at it, and see if I can beat it–if I can’t, I’m going to hop storylines for a while and then come back to this one.
This kind of stuff is a problem that I had with Book 2 of this series, and it comes from the complexity of the thing. It leads to a lot of second-guessing, false trails, and other stuff. And, since my characters have already blown up my outline, I’ve got that uncertainty going on without a map.
I’m having more fun, and this book is definitely even better than the last one (at least so far), and I’m working this in the way that I’ve learned how to work over the last ten books, but there’s still a huge lump of fear around “getting it right,” which is screwing me up. It’s all head games at this point. I’ll get through it, one way or another.
But, unlike with Book 2 when I’d get stuck like this, I’m actually excited about these roadblocks. I’ve learned to trust my process in a way that I didn’t used to, so I’m fairly certain that my subconscious will work this out.
Net progress: negligible. But I’m heading to bed in a fantastic mood, because I left things in a place where things could really take off tomorrow.
Sometimes, self discipline is a bitch. Life has weeks where it throws one thing after another at you, and it’s too easy to just piss and moan about it, which is why I disappeared for the last few days. Last Wednesday I got thrown off my beam by a knee injury. That got followed by a flu. That got followed by a SNAFU with the Free Will podcast drop that delayed things by a week. And that got followed up, right quick, with a whole bunch of minor-but-completely-distracting personal crap.
Frustrating, that’s what it was. And I let it get into my head and seriously screw with me. Which, in the end, is my responsibility and nobody else’s.
It’s not that I didn’t manage to work–I did. Got a new block of the Nanocast moving. Got some paperwork out of the way. Read a couple good books (I’ll review them here later on, when I’ve got more sleep in me). And, in general, I made progress on the things that keep the world moving round, but I tell you…
When I’m not working on this book, things just seem…gray.
Well, I finally got back to it tonight. Felt like bashing my head through a brick wall. I’d been away from the manuscript so long I didn’t want to think about it. Everything in the world was more interesting to me than writing–that’s not an exaggeration. Clipping my toenails was, literally, more interesting than writing.
Thankfully I only have ten toes, so I wound up with nicely groomed toenails and one less excuse to not-write.
Eventually, I relented. I found a secret sauce that slipped me into something of a groove (the soundtrack from David Lynch’s Dune does it for me every time) and I sank in, only to find that Brittany’s storyline is taking a very dark and interesting turn. She might turn out to be a bigger player, with a very different role, than I had expected. Time will tell.
So, not a great word count today, but I did finally get going again.
Here’s the damage:
Starting word count: 43,373
Ending word count: 44,523
Well, whatever I’ve been fighting the last week has cleared up. Be it virus or allergy or circadian dysregulation (which is fancy I-spent-too-much-time-in-a-psych-program talk for “jet lag”), I kicked it.
Which meant I actually got out for my walks today–both of them–which left me wobbly after being off the beam for half a week. Felt spectacular though.
As for work today, I did several hours of research–I’m listening through an audiobook called The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene, which is excellent Antithesis fuel, and also quite distracting.
It’s a deliciously Machiavellian synthesis of the principles of The Art of War married to a wide-ranging selection of readings from various practitioners of realpolitik from manuals of psychological treatment to the policy to the strategic writings of people like Ghandi and Kissinger. More interesting to me is its extensive use of political and military history, particularly the history of revolutionary movements and insurrectionist warfare, since, at its heart, this is what the series is about, being in deep mental contact with the history of this sort of thing gives me many very dark and chewy ideas about what might happen as tis story unfolds MUAHAHAHAHAHA…ah hem.
Anyway, it’s a good book if you’re interested in this kind of thing and it won’t depress you to read a book predicated on an utter lack of a moral compass.
Other than that, I got a few more Nanocast episodes recorded today. Probably won’t finish the block till the end of the week, as there’s another Free Will episode due on Thursday, which I’m determined not to miss.
I’m actually still neck deep in a really fabulous chapter in my writing, but I’ve hit the fatigue wall and am not putting my sentences together well without reading over them several times (for example, I just typed the word “felt” as “flet” and didn’t notice it until I saw the red squiggly line, and then all the other red squiggly lines, and realized I’d dyslexified every word in the sentence), so I’m calling it a night. I made a little under half my word count goal today, which isn’t great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the last few days, so I’ll take it.
Starting word count: 41,919
Ending word count: 43,373
Gorgeous day today. I mean, just look at that sunset!
Still fighting the fatigue today. Woke up with inflamed eyes, so something is definitely up that goes beyond poor sunlight regulation (on the upside, the dark room last night meant I slept a lot better–go me!).
On the upside, I got some killer Nanocast episodes recorded and did a lot of cleaning. There’s something basic and satisfying about spring cleaning, especially spring cleaning I also took some time to make a big pot of my slow-roast marinara sauce, a seven hour process that makes the house smell like an Italian restaurant.
Writing was again a struggle. The fatigue makes the brain cloudy.
While I was working on the house I was also knocking a lot of research out of the way. Part of the whole Antithesis gestalt involves a deep immersion in political and military and espionage history, so when I’m not actually writing I’m swimming deep in the streams of culture I find most refreshing (and distracting). Today I was listening to some lectures on the history of revolutionary movements–which is a colorful history, to say the least. It made a few other pieces fall into place, and lead to me laying in yet another thread from the previous book that I thought wasn’t going to come into play until later.
Oooh, boy, is this book getting complicatied. But I shall persevere.
As far as progress today, there wasn’t any on the word count. Wrote a little, cut a little, wrote a lot of notes. But no real advance worth reporting. Oi.
The fatigue persists. I am now convinced that the good weather is screwing with my sleep cycle. I’m going to sleep in another room tonight, one that doesn’t get direct sunlight in the morning, to confirm my theory.
Had an excellent day regardless. Spent one shift working on network infrastructure–we have a couple new machines coming online as we segment different aspects of the business onto discrete workstations, so that we can use the space more effectively and get more ergonomic variety.
Spent another shift at the traditional sunday socialization and business lunch, where one of the other writers shared some very interesting information that he received from a lawyer this week–nothing that is easy to re-share in any kind of intelligible way, but it created a new research project for me that ought to be a lot of fun (and, possibly, very useful).
Third shift saw me completely sacked out on the couch listening to the BBC Radio production of Wilkie Collins’ “The Moonstone,” which is probably the most important detective novel (or suspense novel) written before The Maltese Falcon. It created the rules of the genre later made famous by Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.
I’ve read the actual book, and it is, in typical 19th century fashion, verbose and only semi-penetrable. For the modern reader it takes a bit of work to relax into an epistolary novel–it’s a very alien form and not frequently done now. But once you get into it, it’s phenomenal.
The BBC Radio 4 production of it is glorious listening. Very well acted and well-adapted (of noticeably shorter than the original book), and is a delightful, relaxing story to listen to (alas, currently out of print, or I’d link you to it).
So, the nap treated me splendidly. Waking up after, not so much. If you’re under 35, trust me, your circadian rhythms are going to start kicking your ass when you inch up on age 40. Quitet shockingly so.
Sleet woke me up. Sleet, in April. The weather around here isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Just on its own, it’s enough to keep you hopping from one foot to another and wondering what’s coming next. Keeps the mind nimble and the body agile.
So, fourth shift I dragged my ass upstairs and started trying to find things to smack into my face to help me wake up. The fatigue persisted, feels like a weighted mask pushing on my eyelids, but I did actually get a good writing shift in–only eight hundred words net gain, but also cleared out some notes, so wound up with a total shift of about a thousand. Not great, but I’ll take it. I was starting to lose my shit thinking that this book might be beating me back.
I also took a little time to record on the Nanocast block, including the longest episode to date on a topic I care deeply about. Should be a great episode when it drops 🙂
So, here’s how the campaign goes.
Words I started with: 41,131
Words I inflicted: 41,919