Saturday, March 7, 2009

A sign of age

My Kindle 2 was waiting for me when I arrived home late last night. I haven't done much more than set it up and browse a few pages of its instructions, but I can already see that it's an improvement over the original. It changes pages faster than the first one did--though still slower than I'd like--and it feels a bit sturdier than its predecessor. I find it annoying that Amazon made the case an accessory you have to buy, but whatever; I can deal with that. I expect to use this one more than the first.

As I was playing with it, however, I was also choosing the next book I was going to read. I am, as anyone who's looked at pictures of my office will know, always awash in books, and I love having them all around me. I was picking up and examining a few hardcovers, the Kindle on the desk in front of me, when it really struck me just how much more I like books, real books, the physical objects, than reading them on the Kindle--or any other device. The Kindle is a great travel aid and a nice way to save weight, so I recommend it to frequent travelers, but I can't help but feel that a book inside the Kindle just isn't as magically powerful as a book sitting on a shelf.

I expect this is a sign of my age, a generational issue that will one day fade into obscurity, but if I'm alive to see that day I expect to mark it in sadness--and to keep supporting whatever publishers, large or small, who produce actual books.

Mixed repeat

Tonight featured two repetitions that yielded very mixed results.

The first was a trip to the lovely Carolina Theatre in Durham to attend The Art of Bellydance by the Bellydance Superstars, a group I've seen once before. Last time, I enjoyed the show but didn't find it amazing. Tonight, the performance reached another level. With a few exceptions, the dances were wonderful to watch, inventive, and, as I think bellydance should be, amazingly sexy. I particularly fell for the Tribal Fusion dancers, whose style and wonderful movements kept my attention every second they were on stage. I definitely recommend this show should it come to your area.

After the performance ended, we went to eat from the late-night menu at Watts Grocery, a place at which I've had several fine meals. Alas, if our food tonight is any indication of the late-night quality here, you should steer clear of it. The sliders were overcooked and their buns too sweet. The pimiento cheese sandwich was carbonized. The fries were soaked and limp. I could only imagine the third-string chef, bored out of his or her gourd in the kitchen, on the phone with a friend as the grill and the fryer slowly ruined our dishes. It's a shame, but I'll need to hear a few good reviews of the food after ten o'clock here before I'll go back for a late-night snack.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A high school musical

Sarah and Scott are playing in the pit for their school's musical, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. I enjoyed the old David Morse movie, and I know some of the kids in the production, so I would have been slightly motivated to attend even if my children were not involved. They were, though, so off I went tonight to see the show.

I was worried. I was going on preview night, and the play had lost a day of rehearsal due to snow.

To my pleasant surprise, my worry was ill-founded. I quite enjoyed myself. I can honestly say that I thought the play was better than many college and some local theater productions I've attended. The leads were always at least solid and often quite good, the supporting cast, particularly the young women, generally strong, the choreography fun, and the production staged better than I would have expected given a high-school budget.

None of that is to say, of course, that the show came off without a hitch. It's not a preview night if you don't have some dropped lines and tech glitches, and both occurred tonight.

Overall, though, I had a good time. These kids should be proud.

I was also reminded once again that the best reason to do art is for the sheer joy of doing it. No one paid these kids, but the joy on most of their faces at the end was, I believe, genuine. I fret over sales, over how well I'm writing, and over all manner of things extraneous to the creation process itself. I should instead take joy in the act, be thankful that anyone is willing to buy my books, create the best possible art I can, and then do it again.

I'm going to work on that. I expect to fail for the most part, but I'm going to try.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some TED stuff you should check out

I know your time is precious, so it won't hurt my feelings if you decide to give the following a pass. I do think, however, that each of these would repay the time you'd invest in them.

First, when Juan Enriquez spoke about some global trends, he used some data visualization tools that were amazing. What's particularly cool is that you can play with them on the Web at this site. I suggest investing in the tutorial if you find the thing initially intimidating, but once you've played with it a bit, I think you'll find it an amazing way to watch trends in action. (Thanks to Kyle for letting me know this was available.)

Next, for an amazing story of rainforest restoration, watch Willie Smits' talk. Smits is not the most dynamic speaker, but if you listen closely you'll be glad you invested the time. His answers to the problems he tackled were complex and involved a great many people, but they worked, and they made me hopeful that similar complex problems were indeed solvable.

Finally, if you simply want to lift your spirit with some great music, use whichever of your computers has the best speakers and listen and watch as Gustavo Dudamel leads a youth orchestra in an exuberant, wonderful performance. If this music, particularly the second piece, doesn't touch you and move you, check your pulse; you may be dead.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The stages of a book

In a comment to an earlier post, Andrew G asked what a galley edit was. It's a good question, because unless you work on books it's unlikely to be something you encounter. By way of answering him (sorry, Andrew), I thought I'd explain the stages of a book.

First, of course, there's the writer's creation and editing/rewriting process. I'm going to skip all that, because I think I've covered my version of that process before. (If not, let me know, and I'll do so in a future post.)

I'm also going to assume that the book in question is already sold. Selling a book involves more steps, so I'll stick with a sold book. (Again, if you want more on selling books, let me know, though I warn that my experience in this area is minimal.)

The ultimate product of the writer's process is a complete book, which most folks refer to as the manuscript, or ms. In the old days, the ms. would be a big, weighty, paper thing that you'd pay to mail to the editor (and hope desperately that nothing happened to it along the way). Now, though, everyone I know just emails the file, typically in Word or RTF or TXT format, to the editor.

Depending on how you and your editor work, you'll then get editorial direction or queries or both from the editor. Your job is to address those in another version of the ms. and to keep doing so until you and the editor agree you're done. (The number of steps here is highly variable, from zero to many.) The result is the final manuscript, or final ms.--which is, of course, anything but final.

The book now enters the production process. Someone at the publishing house assigns a copy editor, who edits the book for basic consistency (e.g., of character names), grammar, house style, and so on. As I understand it, some writers need a lot of copyediting, and others do not. I consider myself to have failed each and every time the copy editor finds an error; I'm supposed to have fixed those. I do not consider myself to have failed when the copy editor makes changes to accommodate the publisher's house style (which might, for example, be to run together all compound nouns). I should note that my copy editors have always found some errors and improved my books.

The result of this change is the copyedited manuscript (I'm going to stop mentioning now that you can put ms. for manuscript as you choose). You may receive this in paper or online; my last one came on paper. This document is still in manuscript format, but it contains all the copy editor's changes and queries, with the changes usually in standard editing mark format. At that point, your job is to answer the queries and inspect all the edits and address them or change them as you want. I also take this opportunity to make other changes, including sometimes adding whole sentences; I'm an obsessive devil.

By the way, I should note that somewhere in here, usually before the copyediting process, the publisher will produce the advance reading copies (ARCs) that go to reviewers (though not all books get ARCs). Given that the ARC often reflects only the final manuscript, it really is an edition of the book that will never exist again. So, I get why some folks collect these.

Baen, my publisher, also offers the electronic ARCs, or eARCs, before the paper ones are ready, so those readers who love a book or series and really want to see it early can do so. (And, by the way, I love those readers!)

Now, back to the production process.

After you return the copyedited ms., which you typically do by mailing back the paper, the manuscript goes to the next stage of production: the galleys. These are pages that show your book's text as it will actually appear, with real page numbers and so on, though often on standard 8.5 by 11-inch paper. This is your last chance to change the book. The goal is for you to give it a quick read and make any minor changes that are absolutely necessary.

Somewhat predictably, and to the annoyance of my editor and production team, I use this opportunity to change anything I damn well feel like changing, up to and including adding whole sentences. Hey, I want it to be right! (And, as I said, I'm obsessive.)

You then send back the edited galley pages, they make your edits to the book (assuming all goes well), and the next time you see the thing it's a real book.

Andrew, I hope that answers your question, and I apologize for using your query as the excuse for writing such a treatise.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Backing up your work

As I was catching up on fellow writer and friend Lisa Shearin's blog, I noticed she discussed backing up your work. She gave her rituals and noted that they probably weren't particularly obsessive. I have to agree, and to make Lisa more certain she's not alone in her paranoia, I thought I'd review my own backup strategies.

I put each day's work in the following places:

* on the hard disk of the system on which I'm writing it (of course)
* on each of three separate USB keys (because I can)
* on my home server (unless I'm on the road), which is a RAIDed box with multiple disks

On a weekly basis, I copy my work to the following places:

* my main home system
* some remote storage my Web site host provides

Each time I change computers, which is often (you don't even want to know my whole computer setup; it would just make you jealous), I copy all work in progress to it.

Now, do I consider these many copies obsessive? Not at all. I wonder only how I can streamline these processes, automate them so more copies are available.

My goals are simple: when some piece of my tech infrastructure dies, I don't want to waste any more time than is absolutely necessary before I am up and writing again, and I never, never, never want to lose any work.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gray skies, happy day

The sky never cleared today, but that was fine by me; I love rainy days. We may get snow tonight, but it should vanish quickly, so I'm fine with that news as well. I slept late and enjoyed the drumming of the rain on the skylights. I find the sound soothing and conducive to lazing about--though of course I should have accomplished more.

Toni forwarded me a very complimentary note from a very nice bookseller, so when I checked my email I had a nice treat waiting. Pathetic, isn't it, how little it takes to make a writer's day (or at least, this writer's)?

I'm still proceeding far, far more slowly on the work on Children No More than I'd like, but I'm not going to obsess about that tonight; tonight, I'll enjoy the weather and the small kindnesses and awake renewed to work hard tomorrow. I hope you can do the same.

The five most annoying writing questions I regularly receive

Maybe these belong in the FAQ section of my site. Maybe I'll even put them there someday soon. For now, though, they're going here, in what would ideally be a way of lowering their frequency but in reality is probably just a way of sharing my pain with you.

So what's going to happen in the next book?

A whole lot of stuff. Good stuff.

No, I'm not going to tell you more.

Why don't you write more books?

I write as fast as I can while doing the quality of work I demand of myself. I also have a very demanding, more than full-time job. The whole job thing kinda gets in the way.

Why don't you quit and write full-time?

Because I like my lifestyle, and being the CEO of even a small tech company pays a lot more than I currently make from writing. Mind you, I'm not complaining; my books sell way better than those of most novelists at my career stage, and I am very grateful to all who buy them. I need far bigger sales numbers, however, before I could ever contemplate quitting.

Plus, I like what I do at PT. It's a great job and a great team.

Why don't you come to more book stores, like the one near me, for signings?

First, there's not a lot of evidence to suggest anyone wants to go anywhere for signing--questioner excluded, of course. Second, and more important, no one is offering to pay for me to go to those places. Pay my way, and you'd be amazed where I might be willing to go. Florence, Italy, for example, or Barcelona, Spain; anyone who wants to pay me to go to those places, just yell.

Why don't you make movies out of your books?

Because I don't have hundreds of millions of dollars or any knowledge of the movie industry.

Okay, that's not fair, because what the questioner really means is, why hasn't Hollywood made movies of your books?

Hell if I know. I sure wish they would. I'd love the splendor, the glory, the cinematic magic--oh yeah, and the check. I'd really love the check.


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