Month: August 2017

Remembering Sam

company obituary for Sam Blackman

I’m not very good at grieving. Part of that is being an emotionally stunted Briton, but I am also fortunate in that I have not had all that much practice.

So when Sam Blackman died suddenly and entirely unexpectedly (he was only 41) I struggled to process it.

I didn’t know Sam well enough to call him a friend, but I liked him a lot. I met him when I started my current day job at Elemental, the company he co-founded, and I was immediately impressed by his warmth and generosity of spirit. He engaged with everyone he spoke to, and he led from the front.

Because Sam was a leader, someone who inspired greatness in others by being great himself. He encouraged volunteering; he fostered an inclusive company culture which strives for diversity; and he promoted civic engagement both by the company and its employees.

He also really liked oatmeal.

I’m grateful to have known Sam. He encouraged my writing just by being interested in it, and his whacky idea of a quarterly results meeting themed around one of my books was extraordinary and an extraordinary compliment.

Goodbye, Sam. You did great things, and you will be remembered.

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Post Delay

I’m afraid this week’s post is going to be late. There’s been a sudden death at the day job and I need to process that at the moment.

Back in a day or two.

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The Wayfarers Books

One of my friends at the day job did a wonderful thing recently – she started a science fiction book club, focussing initially on the Nebula award nominees. One of the early books we wanted to read was A Closed And Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, but since it’s the second in the Wayfarers series we decided to start with the first book, The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet*.

These are both lovely books. This is not especially because of the writing, which is well-crafted but not spectacular (and it is better in the second book), but because of everything described with that writing: the Galactic Commons setting is Star Trek-style utopian (with humanity a recent controversial addition to the GC), the non-human species are distinct and imaginatively alien, and the values on display are gloriously inclusive**. There is real care taken with gender roles and inclusive language which shines through in the overall sense of warmth and friendliness. I would describe the sense of joyousness portrayed by these books as awesome people being awesome to each other.

The differences between the books are as instructive as the similarities. The first is definitely an ensemble piece, where the first character we meet is part of a diverse cast, while the second book takes a couple of characters from the first book and explores their story much more deeply. The biggest weakness of the first book is that there is no conflict until a long way through the book – it all seems a little too cozy, even twee, but the sense of welcome carries us through the travelogue and setting summary. This lack of conflict is certainly not the case in the second book, although the conflicts are too often resolved without cost.

One of the themes of these books is AI personhood, which is a hobbyhorse I ride a lot in my own writing. I really enjoyed seeing that issue aired, and I’m looking forward to reading more to see how Chambers develops the theme further.

Still, very enjoyable books and definitely recommended. And we love the Aandrisk and their feather families in the book club.

[*] it turns out we would have been fine in terms of comprehension if we had just dived into the second novel, but I’m glad we read the first one.

[**] apart, perhaps, from the Quelin.

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Willamette Writers Conference 2017

This year’s Willamette Writers Conference was a little over week ago. My brain is still fizzing.

My history with cons and confs is not lengthy. I went to Westercon last year and enjoyed it mightily, including the many writing track sessions that I sat in on. However Westercon is still a fan convention rather than a conference. And, in fact, most of my con-going has been to fan conventions, whether it was Wordstock a few years ago (which I somehow forgot to mention in my Westercon post) or UKCAC way back in the 90s.

And this is why I was keen to go to the Willamette Writers Conference. It has fan elements because writers tend to be fans of other writers, but it’s a conference about the business of writing rather than a celebration of the results. This will not be the last writing conference I go to, but going to a conference which is in my home town was too bic an opportunity to overlook.

There are also pitch slots available.

One of the huge differences between a con and a conf is that agents don’t usually go to cons to do business. Conferences, on the other hand, can attract agents who are looking for authors to represent, and this conference in particular offers an opportunity to pitch your story to agents in ten minute slots. Since one of my three goals for the year was to seek representation, these pitch slots were obviously a big draw for me.

There are also many tracks of craft sessions over the three days. I tried to go to a variety of sessions covering both things I think I need to know and things I don’t know that I need to know yet. So, I went to sessions about editing and genre, but I also went to sessions about nonfiction queries and writing love stories. The speaker quality was generally high, in some cases rising to the level of deeply inspiring. I am thinking that I will actually have to do the audiobook of Livia, now*.

The best bit of this conf was the community, though. Being around other writers, being in an atmosphere of acceptance for the odd pursuit, and meeting other writers who are making a living off it, was wonderful: it was validating and transformative. I will be going to some of the Willamette Writers sessions in Portland over the next year too.

Going to a conference like this is not a cheap option, but it was an enormously valuable weekend for me, and I am very glad I was able to attend.

I will return.

[*] producing the Livia audiobook is probably the goal that will replace publishing A New Dawn on my list of things for the year.

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Blog Schedule

This blog hasn’t really been on a schedule of any kind in a little while, and it shows – the only regular posts are the goals updates, with occasional excursions into craft and process.

The reasons for this are many fold but mostly revolve around working on The Book. I don’t really mind if I blog less in order to write fiction, but I also don’t want to have Identity Function fall to abandonment. Also also, there is the fact that when I have a regular schedule I write more in general. I started this blog as a way to keep the fingers moving, and that is still a relevant purpose.

Which is all to say that I am going to be starting a new blog calendar this week. There isn’t any particular significance to the timing apart from having returned energised from the Willamette Writers Conference, but this week is when the calendar starts.

From here, you should see weekly posts on Tuesday following this sequence each month:

  • first Tuesday: writing craft
  • second Tuesday: context – science, politics, and so on
  • third Tuesday: business of writing
  • fourth Tuesday: inputs – books, games, and other media
  • fifth Tuesday: wildcard

I will still be writing my monthly Things posts, and those will appear close to the first of each month.

And that’s my plan. I will see you back here tomorrow for the first post of the new schedule.

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August Things, 2017

Temporal Note: I’m posting this a little more than a week into August, when the conference I talk about is in the past because that’s when most of it was written. I will write about the conference at some point, but this goals update is written as if it has not already happened.

This is my 2017 Things post for August, where I review what I did last month and set goals for the next.

Three Things for July

July was a month for getting back to my writing. It went OK.

  1. revise Song – the goal was to prepare a solid third draft.
    1. review beta feedback – reviewed feedback received. It was very helpful, pointing out several things that if corrected would improve the story and its telling.
    2. third pass revision plan – prepared a revision plan based on feedback and my own notes. The plan has two parts: a hierarchical todo list and a matrix of touchstones by chapter.
    3. third pass revision – worked through the plan. Trying to get this whole plan finished in one month was too ambitious, but the book is better and it will get better still.
  2. short fiction – I was going to finish the story I began on holiday, but I didn’t touch it. I think I need to make more of an effort.
  3. pitching – done. I attended a pitching workshop and met some very interesting writers as well as receiving some good pitch advice. The end result was that I had a well-worked pitch for Song and a back-up pitch for Livia. The Livia pitch was more to demonstrate that I can finish more than one book than out of any expectation that anyone would really be interested in it.

1.5 out of three, I would say, but the main win is that I stayed on top of the writing.

Three Things for 2017

The year is seven twelfths done. Where stand my goals?

  1. finish A Turquoise Song – third draft is underway. The the second draft was readable, but the third draft needs to be awesome and it’s not yet. So, more work to do.
  2. talk to some agents, aiming to obtain representation – got the pitches done.
  3. investigate publishing A New Dawn – no work. I’m abandoning this goal.

Progress where it was needed. I will take it.

Three Things for August

  1. Willamette Writers conference – my first writing conference! I’ve been to a couple of conventions before, both professional and fan-based, but this is the first going to a writing conference. Goals:
    1. pitching – mostly Song, of course
    2. critique group – I met some really interesting writers at the pitch workshop, so need to reestablish contact and make sure we stay in touch for critiques and work-sharing in the future.
    3. learning – looking at some technical sessions, some things I am just interested in.
  2. revise Song – finalise the third draft.
  3. short fiction – work on at least one story

August looks a lot like July, but with even narrower focus.

Let’s get on with it.

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Allergies and Me

I never suffered from debilitating allergies. Other members of my family have acute reactions to cats, and I know many people who suffer from hay fever or intolerances to particular foods. But I had no history myself: I could hang out with cats and eat whatever I wanted (apart from meat of course, but that’s by choice). I did notice as I aged that I was getting more sensitive to dust and certain paint odours, though: if I used oil-based paint or worked too much on woodworking projects then I would suffer a hangover the next day.

Then a few years ago I suddenly understood that our cats were making me ill. I realised this when we went cabin-camping. It was February and we all had colds. It should have been a miserable experience but I slept and felt better than I had in months. When we experimented with stopping the cats from being in our room I saw an immediate improvement (and I could easily tell when we weren’t successful in keeping them out!). Allergy pills helped me deal with the fuzzies until they (very sadly) passed away a few years ago.

So, now I have to be aware that I am allergic to cats. It’s not an acute reaction, but I know to take an antihistamine if I am going to be hanging out with them (because I still like cats and I know lots of other people who do too). As long as I remember these things I can function.

But just recently I had another revelation – apparently I can’t deal with feathers any more either.

At the beginning of July I had my annual writing retreat. I went away for the weekend to the coast and had a really splendid couple of days working on the book and getting things done. I also slept very well.

Then I got back home and my good mood crashed in about a day and a half. I was tired, grumpy and congested. I wondered what it was that had brought me back down so hard and I started casting around for answers. I cut back on YouTube (which helped) and tried to get more sleep (which helped a bit), but then I realised that it was worse in the morning, which suggested it was something related to where I was sleeping. It was another cats-on-the-bed moment.

Since we swapped the worn-out feather duvet for synthetic bedding I’ve slept better than I have in ages – even when I’ve indulged a little the night before, I have woken up refreshed and (critically) uncongested. The difference is like night and day.

I’m mentioning this not just to celebrate but as a reminder that ill health can sneak up on you – if the rate of change is slow, an increased allergic reaction can be indistinguishable from the effects of aging so you can suffer reduced capacity without a reason.

And allergies can be pretty debilitating. Here is a video discussing studies of effects of hayfever on test scores –

Look after yourselves, and stay vigilant about any changes in your health, however gradual.

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