April 29, 2013


I heard Chaz Brenchley read the beginning of DISPOSSESSION at FOGcon, and I knew I was going to have to buy the book so I could find out what happens next.

At the start of the novel, Jonty wakes up in a hospital and is surprised to discover that the woman cradling his aching head isn't the one he's loved and shared his life with for years but instead a complete stranger. His surprise turns to utter confusion when this mystery woman claims to be his wife.

Jonty soon discovers that he's been in an accident and lost all memory of the past three months of his life. They've apparently been busy ones. During this missing time, he's not only married a woman he can't remember, he's also become involved in a host of nefarious activities that make no sense with what he knows about himself. The story unfolds as a fascinating mystery in which a man investigates his own recent past.

I previous read the author's HOUSE OF DOORS and was impressed by the storytelling, so I had no doubt that DISPOSSESSION would be a satisfying read. Jonty's mystery becomes more puzzling the deeper he delves, with more strange factors coming into play, but by the end, all questions are answered. There's a good deal of graphic violence along the way, so this is not a story for everyone, but if you have the stomach for it, I recommend it.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Lydia Netzer looks at the backlash against literary fiction: "I read a lot of books last year including scifi, historical, 19th century, memoir, and yes nonfiction and even instruction manuals. My favorite books were the ones I could preface with this much-maligned and apparently dangerous adjective 'literary.' Literary scifi yes please! Literary historical thank you! Literary southern hello! 'Literary memoir' tells me this is not a celebrity tell-all or political expose. 'Literary thriller' tells me I can enjoy my sentences while I scramble through a plot."

April 26, 2013

Beyond The End

Since I announced that I reached the end of my novel rewrite, people have been curious about why I'm not in fact finished revising. I know there's a danger I could tinker forever in the search for perfection, but I promise that's not what I'm doing. (Right now. That might come later.)

For the past two years, I always kept myself moving in a forward direction, partly to avoid that trap of endless tweaking. As a result, I would sometimes find that I needed to do something such as establish three chapters back that the characters had a previous discussion about the topic at hand. I'd make a note of it and keep going. So now it's time for me to write in all those little changes specified in my careful notes.

The three-stories-in-one nature of my novel also introduced some issues that I need to deal with. For various reasons, I started revising with the story that occurs chronologically last and finished with the one that happens first. That meant that when I deviated from my outline, I sometimes ended up with characters referring to past events that I altered when writing about that part of the past. For example, in the storyline I just finished, which is the earliest one, I gave the narrator's wife a whole subplot that I hadn't even thought of until I started working on that story. The subplot makes the whole story far richer (I can't even understand how I didn't think of it sooner), but it does mean I have to adjust all the places where the next narrator talks about this aspect of his childhood so that it makes sense with the new reality.

As I've been rereading what I've written over these past two years, I'm mostly pretty happy, which is a relief, but I am finding occasional sentences that are painfully convoluted and overcrowded with information. I'm looking forward to fixing all those before any other human being has to be subjected to them.

There's other stuff to do which is vaguer and therefore less easy to explain, and I honestly can't state how long it's going to take to make these changes. But I promise I will stop myself short of perfectionism and work on getting a draft that I can call finished as soon as possible.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Robert Brockway offers 5 Tips for Punching Writer's Block in the Face: "Writer's block comes from the panic of potentiality: There's too much you can do, so you do nothing. Push that thought out of your head and put something down on paper that you know, as a fact, is going to be garbage." (Thanks, Lauren!)

April 22, 2013

Birthday Book Haul

Because it was my birthday last week, as well as to celebrate reaching the end of my revision, I went out and bought myself some books at my two favorite local bookstores, Books Inc in Mountain View and Leigh's Favorite Books in Sunnyvale.

Not that I need any more books, or have any room left on my shelves. I'm going to have to do a bit of culling and give some of my old books to the library in order to fit these new ones. And while I expect to read some of these soonishly, others may sit on the shelf for years before I get to them. And, yeah, I'm already in the middle of a couple books on my Kindle right now, and plan to buy a few more recent releases in digital format, but I'm not giving up on paper yet.

For one thing, I love a good cover, so I couldn't resist this watery beauty:

April 15, 2013

The End Is Here

Recently this blog has been mostly reading and not much writing and revising, but lots of writing and revising has been going on behind the scenes. And as a result of it all, I am very happy and relieved to announce that I have reached The End.

You should feel free to cheer and applaud now. I'll bask.

Yes, it's true: I have finished the last chapter of the novel that I started revising more than two years ago. This revision has taken so much longer than I expected, and I have made so many predictions that proved to be laughingly inaccurate. But I see in that post from the beginning that I wrote, "At this rate, I'll be finished approximately never." So I came in ahead of deadline after all!

This is not the first time I've completed THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE. I originally wrote the story in a month for NaNoWriMo, and later I started over from scratch and wrote a much stronger novel based on the same ideas in eight months. I didn't anticipate that I'd be starting from scratch again this time, but I ended up changing far more than I left intact.

When I was making plans for this revision, I thought the second version was sort of close to what the story ought to be. That didn't really take into account that I was already intending to make big, big changes, and I came up with plenty more changes as I went along. Plus, while writing this draft, I worked more carefully on the quality of my prose than I ever have before (or than I ever had the ability to before, since I keep improving as a writer the longer I write). That all took time.

But I'm very happy with what I've produced. I think it's good -- and I hope I still think so once I read it! I know many of you are eager to read as well, but it's not quite ready. As I warned you too long ago, I need to fix some continuity errors and other uneven parts before I share it. I've learned my lesson, and I'm making no predictions whatsoever about how long that's going to take.

For now, though, I'm giving myself the week off to relax, celebrate my birthday, and spend some more time reading.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Hal Duncan demonstrates How to Write a Sentence: "There are many things you want to say in a sentence, but you can't say them all. Decide between them. There are many ways a thing might be said. Decide between them. There are many words on the shelf, close enough to hand that you could grab any one of them and just chuck it in there. Don't. Stop. Look at those words. Decide between them." (Thanks, Effie!)

April 9, 2013

Starting Margaret Atwood

The second author in my START HERE project is Margaret Atwood, and this time I get to be much more enthusiastic than with the first author. However, I hardly needed an introduction to Atwood, because she has been one of my favorite authors for decades.

Even though she's a favorite, I haven't read close to all of her many books. So I was pleased to see that the reading pathway (created by Brenna Clarke Gray) has only one book I'd read before (and wanted to reread anyway) and two I hadn't tried yet.

→ I first read THE HANDMAID'S TALE when I was probably a teenager, and maybe another time since then. I was glad for the opportunity to read it again and glad to find it was just as good -- and just as horrifying -- as I remembered.

The novel speculates an America that has been taken over by religious fanatics who want to put women back in their Biblical place. The narrator, who until recently had the life of a modern woman with a job and a husband and a child, has been forced into the role of Handmaid to a Commander and his Wife. (There are a lot of new and repurposed capitalized terms under the regime.) As a Handmaid, she is supposed to bear a child for this infertile couple, in the manner described in the book of Genesis.

To be clear, this story is brutal and depressing. The moments of happiness are nearly all in the flashbacks to the time before and serve to make the narrator's present even more awful. But the book is amazing in the way it unfolds, the style of the storytelling, the care taken with the details of life in this dystopia, and the moments of humor and wordplay.

April 3, 2013

Suggested Shorts

At the beginning of February, I wrote about making an effort to read more short fiction. Part of my inspiration has been a project by Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand to read a short story every day. I haven't been as dedicated or consistent as that, but I have been enjoying a short story with my breakfast more mornings than not.

Ann has been keeping track of all her reading, with wonderful write-ups of each story on the BOTNS blog, and that's where I'm finding many of the stories I read. Since I already spend a lot of time tracking and reviewing novels, I decided to take a more relaxed approach and not worry about recording what stories I read or where the suggestions came from. The one thing I do want to document is the short stories that really stand out for me.

These are the stories I read during the first part of the year that made the biggest impression:

→ In my review of Sherman Alexie's work, I noted that my favorite story in the collection I read was "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor" (PDF). It's about how a wife reacts to her husband's cancer, and it's very funny and very sad at the same time. After thinking about how much I liked it (compared to most of the rest of the collection), I realized that somewhat oddly, the story has a similar theme and tone to the favorite story I mentioned last time, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried" by Amy Hempel.

So far this year, the Alexie book is the only short story collection I've read, but I anticipate getting to more of these soon.

"Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders won the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novelette, which led me to learn that a novelette is a work of a length between a short story and a novella. I loved so many things about this story. It has an amazing premise: "The man who can see the future has a date with the woman who can see many possible futures." It's wrenching and hilarious (do you sense a pattern in my tastes?), and it's full of geeky details that make the world of the story a comfortable fit for me.

→ In "Nine Inches" by Tom Perrotta, chaperoning a middle school dance leads a teacher to consider the life he might have had. This one is more sad than funny, but I was drawn in by how realistic and sympathetic the characters and situation felt.

"One-Horned & Wild-Eyed" by Manuel Gonzales is about what happens when two men who have been friends since childhood encounter an unearthly creature. I liked how the story attained a good mix of the mundane and the fantastical.

"Nanny's Day" by Leah Cypess speculates on the future of child custody battles. It's a tense, gripping story and sort of a legal thriller. This was my favorite among the nominees for this year's Nebula Awards, but I read and liked all the other nominated short stories.

"The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin is a quite short story that manages to make a couple of satisfying turns in the space of a thousand words.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Edan Lepucki at The Millions asks novelists what they try to figure out with their first drafts: "What, I asked them, do you need to know before you begin? And what do you try to solve as you're working on that first draft? Their answers were as brilliant and as varied as I expected."