Rounding the Far Turn…

Posted: July 25th, 2015 under Story, the writing life.
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The book has moved from the backstretch, where it was interfered with by sprinter-bred short story attempts, and is now on the turn toward home, though I can’t claim “homestretch” just yet.   It’s running smoothly at this point–10,000 words this past week, which is quite nice (the 3000 word day made my fingers hurt; I’m pretty much limited to 2000 on the day after day thing.)   I’m a little over 89,000 words right now, and it will reach 90,000 words today.   Getting that short story concern out of my mind really helped.   I can now hold the existing story (and what I know or surmise about the part that’s not written down yet)  in my head and see better where it wants to go, like a jockey who’s finally worked a horse out of a bad pocket and has open track in front.    The story-horse is on the bit, eager to get to the finish line.

I consider this draft 75% complete, and what’s left to go in (in terms of content) should in the end fit into the 30,000 yet to do, plus or minus the usual 10-15%.   I’m still not removing the “wrong” section early on because  there are details in it that should transfer without any problem to the stuff that replaced it, but working on it now would distract me from making the last quarter all in one strong dash.  There are also notes to myself (in square brackets)  telling me of places that need more, but the story was dragging me past at high speed so I couldn’t stop then:  [could be confusing.  Feather into background, clarify that bit about X’s motives]  and [fact-check projected tech on this] and the like.  Also of course minor character names not remembered from chapters before show up in ms. as [whatsisface] or [needaname].  When the action is flowing fast, I don’t stop.   So handy to be able to search for [  when it’s time to clean all these up and replace them with (for instance) Col. Greyhaus.

So what can I tell you?   The opposition is well aware of the danger Ky represents and the danger the Vattas as a family represent–a danger they aren’t fully aware of.  (They tend to see their danger to others as a business thing–they might gain an advantage in trade.  Grace sees more than that, but not the whole thing.)   Grace’s new arm is adult-sized now, and almost full-strength.  She wears long sleeves even more than she did before: one wrinkly, spotty old arm and one smooth perfect new arm get double looks from everyone.   Grace tells the whole family to be careful, but not all comply.   Ky eventually finds all the opposition agents among the survivors, but that doesn’t end her immediate peril (not even counting the climate, the season, these nonhuman contributors to danger)  because, again, she has no reference points for the other stuff.

I can say that my visit to the Field Museum in Chicago back in May has gradually percolated into the book, by changing the kinds of terrestrial fauna I ended up putting on the supposed “terraforming failure” continent.   That wasn’t the only influence, but it was probably the main one.   I went there to look at contemporary Arctic and sub-Arctic fauna but in thinking about the undergirding “long timeline” of the Vatta-verse,  I saw no reason why a terraforming organization might not choose a different starting point for going out to mess with planets.  No, there are no feathered dinosaurs.  Wrong climate.



  • Comment by Kip Colegrove — July 25, 2015 @ 3:56 pm


    Back when I was twelve or so (I think some of those feathered dinosaurs were still around) I was complaining to my mother that I needed to forge ahead sometimes when I was writing (school assignments and so on) but needed to put something in to refer back to before the whole thing could be finished. Her response was, “Use square brackets, why don’t you?” I immediately took her advice and I’ve found it perfectly satisfactory every since. On standard a keyboard it’s so easy. I wonder how widespread this particular practice is?

  • Comment by Marian — July 25, 2015 @ 4:44 pm


    I used a different font … or a bunch of asterisks.

    Question – if regrowth is common, why would a new arm attract attention?

  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — July 25, 2015 @ 6:25 pm


    The more I read about what you have to do to create a well written book I am increasingly impressed.

    It is really hard and continual work.

  • Comment by Tuppenny — July 25, 2015 @ 6:57 pm


    Really interesting article on the BBC on Charles Darwin and an early experiment on (semi)terraforming:

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 26, 2015 @ 11:01 am


    Tuppenny: That IS fascinating, but I think what’s even less recognized (except by some ecologists) is that all human-action changes in the planet are ALSO terraforming. Agriculture that turned forest into cropland–or grassland into desert (and that repeatedly, in the Tigris/Euphrates basin)–or terraced steep slopes to grow rice–and so on. Some experiments have almost disappeared (the terrace-canal systems in the Amazon only now being rediscovered as the forest is being destroyed) but the evidence of others is clear. Every garden is a small act of terraforming: changing what grew there, adding and subtracting plants, to get the garden the gardener wants. Every destruction of a garden to put in a paved space or a building is also terraforming–not as we like to think of it, making something barren or unable to sustain this planet’s life more fertile and sustainable–but it is an intentional change in an existing environment. We are changing the climate now (and I’ve been reading Lee & Miller’s latest Liaden books in which humans are busy working on the climate of Surebleak.) No one passing by on a spaceship would mistake what we have now for the original pre-human condition of the planetary ecosystem.

    Jonathan: Thank you. It’s gratifying to have the work respected, rather than the comments I get (and other genre writers, in particular, get) about how I must be “churning it out” or “cranking it out” without much effort.

    Marian: Regeneration of whole limbs on Slotter Key is possible but not common, especially in elderly individuals. Clean amputations are dealt with by surgical reimplantation (as they are here); most injuries to a limb can be handled in a “regen tank” that regenerates elements of the original limb. Messy amputations, like Grace’s, are mostly replaced with prostheses–very advanced ones–advanced from what we have now, but still a mix of robotics, electronics, and brain-limb communication systems mediated by computer. Whole limb replacement is most often used in young persons who were born without a limb or had a messy amputation–unlike prostheses, that have to be changed as a child grows, a replacement implanted and “pushed” to the child’s age will then grow at a normal rate, giving the child a limb that matches the uninjured one. Young adults may also choose this method. Grace is an exception–not the only one, but not a common case. It would be medically impossible (and take years) to “push” her regenerated limb to her calendar age (for young adults who choose a “natural” limb, the limb is pushed to the adult size, not the patient’s chronological age for the same reasons.) So she has an old arm and a young arm. They look very different, and since it’s unusual to see an old woman with one old arm and one young arm, people do notice. For Grace, who has used the lesser visibility of the elderly very well in her days as a corporate spy–she can do ‘doddering old lady’ very well, being that noticeable annoys her. Yes, she’s known now in her persona as Rector of Defense, but she likes to get out on the streets and in stores listening to people–which can still do as an old lady in long sleeves and gloves or hand make-up.

    Kip: I used to use parentheses–never thought of using square brackets until I started writing on the computer and wanted to look through for places to fix without having to print out the manuscript all the time. A “search” on the square bracket let me skip over the parentheses and find the “fixit” spots. You, or your mother, were smarter. Probably both.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 26, 2015 @ 11:51 am


    Regarding terraforming, the book I found interesting was Gavin Menzie’s two books on the history of the Chinese treasure fleets voyages. How they brought things on to the ships with them, then maybe got stuck someplace else and/or deliberately left with only a trace to show that many didn’t realize until the author started piecing things together.

  • Comment by Larryp — July 27, 2015 @ 6:12 am


    The American Indians did a lot of terraforming when you consider that the Great Plains are the result of fires the Indians set to keep the trees off the plains so the buffalo would have more grasslands to cover. It is an old art/tech that all humans practice.

  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — July 28, 2015 @ 5:51 am


    The Field Museum in Chicago – is that the one with the submarine – Ky goes underwater.

  • Comment by Iphinome — July 28, 2015 @ 8:29 am


    @Jonathan Schor The U505 exhibit is in the Museum of Science and Industry. You can find a video of the tour on youtube.

    If you’ve not been then the Henry Crown space center section is must, it was always a favorite of mine during childhood museum trips, they have two slightly used space capsules, a Mercury and an Apollo plus the fairy castle is something to see at least once.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 28, 2015 @ 9:26 am


    Jonathan: Field Museum is natural history and full of wonders, including Sue the Tyrannosaurus (whose skull was too heavy to mount on the skeleton downstairs, so a reproduction was made for it, and the real fossil skull is upstairs, where you can see it better anyway.) If you go, do not miss the lichen exhibition. Just wandering around is also great. I now have a “Sue” T-shirt and could have walked out with a double-sackful of other goodies, but it was a long (for me, these days) walk back to the hotel.

    Iphinome: Where is the Museum of Science and Industry? I may try for that the next time I have a day or more in Chicago.

  • Comment by Iphinome — July 28, 2015 @ 10:51 am


    @Lady Moon around 5700 south, a bit east of the university of Chicago in the Hyde park neighborhood. I believe a field trip there was offered during the Chicago worldcon.

    One can get there via 2 buses from union station or by walking about 3/4 of a mile east and taking one bus, figure a half hour ride during the day, about 7 miles as the wolf runs. From Midway airport there’s a bus that goes all the way there but that’s a bit of a schlep.

    Some exhibits have an additional fee including the submarine tour (didn’t used to cost extra), the coal mine (not worth it IMO), and the fairy castle. Also bring a few dollar bills so you can use a Mold-A-Rama machine, I still have an injection molded plastic space shuttle made before my eyes in the mid-80s.

    If you can go I highly recommend it. See the capsules that went into space, Apollo 8 is in a glass box, Aurora 7 is covered with plastic sheets, you can place your hand a half inch from the metal, everybody does it. See the planes hanging from the ceiling, they have a spitfire in the collection, see the Pioneer Zephyr, a passenger train from the 1930s, see the U505, there’s only like 4 u-boats in museums… I’m gushing.

    And here is someones camera phone footage of the submarine tour on youtube.

  • Comment by Margaret — July 29, 2015 @ 11:43 am


    The Museum of Science and Industry is further south along the downtown lake shore from the Field Museum and the Navy Pier. 57th street sticks in my mind as the approximate vicinity / railroad station exit.

    They also have a Humongous Model Railroad setup, sponsored by the BNSF that got rebuilt a few years back when BN absorbed the Santa Fe. The earlier version featured the Scenic Desert Southwest including a version of the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert. The current one features the Empire Builder route of the BN, and depicts containerized freight traveling from the port of Seattle to Chicago.

    I was about ten when my Dad first took me to the Science and Industry museum, and in college when I went back on my own to see the submarine after reading Adm. Gallery’s memoir about its capture. In those days the U-505 was still outdoors on its original mountings from when it got installed in the middle 1950s. Nowadays it has its own indoor exhibit hall; there may still be a time-lapse video on the museum website of moving the sub from the old to the new display site.

  • Comment by Eowyn — July 29, 2015 @ 1:16 pm


    I’m looking forward to the book (I guess I need to start thinking about when to start the re-read of the prior series to make sure I know who is who).

    When doing things that may need editing, I’ve been using the multiple asterisks for several years. My mom taught me that when she was doing technical typing from hand written paper and spellcheck has no idea what a gyroklystron is. She would put a *** before and after the words she wasn’t sure of so the author could find them easily in the print-outs (mid-80s). I also use that in some coding I do to find things that need to be changed (e.g. a web-site that has to have dates updated regularly will have a *** Change Start Date **** and I can find it very quickly).

    Fingers crossed that the story stays focused on the finish line and doesn’t try to figure out how the infield grass tastes.

  • Comment by Iphinome — July 29, 2015 @ 8:11 pm


    I think I might have one in moderation.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 29, 2015 @ 11:10 pm


    You did–I don’t know why it went to moderation. I’m running hard this week and last so I’m not getting to all the comments and things in moderation sit there until I have time. Sorry. (It’s after midnight again. Sigh. VERY tired now.) Thanks for the info. I hope to get back to Chicago with more time someday, but Lifestuff closes in.

  • Comment by Iphinome — July 30, 2015 @ 12:22 am


    I expect it was because there were two URLs in the comment so the spam filter threw it into the double check this queue.

    There is no reason to apologize, I only mentioned it because it was information you asked for and I wanted to be sure you got it.

  • Comment by R.K.Duk — August 4, 2015 @ 4:16 pm


    When writing technical papers and reports, I use xxx and yyy for figure and table numbers, respectively, and square brackets for reference numbers. Most “automatic” numbering tools in word processing software are too glitchy to trust. Still, global search-and-replace is much easier than yesteryear’s look-and-don’t-find!

  • Comment by elizabeth — August 4, 2015 @ 11:02 pm


    It makes sense to have more than one kind of marker for more than one kind of “I’ll fill this in later” situation. Global search & replace is great.

  • Comment by jeanine — August 12, 2015 @ 11:22 am


    I use asterisks too but I also highlight in color anything I want to look at again. Makes it so much easier to find something of concern in a particular section and to see the highlighted item all at a glance. You could even use different colors for different issues, such as pink for “reword this” and yellow for “insert new name here.”

  • Comment by elizabeth — August 12, 2015 @ 11:59 am


    Jeanine: When I print out the main draft to start serious revision, I use colored pens and colored sticky-notes both. But for simple one or two-word changes, the [ gives me an easy, fast way to do global searches. I don’t have to spot the color; the computer spots the square bracket for me. I use colors when balancing point of view sections, to be sure that the primary POV person has the most pages of POV, the next most important the next, and so on. In the most complicated books, where many POVs need to be braided together in some kind of temporal order, the manuscript can look like a rainbow, with one set of color markers used for POV, another for quarters of the book, another for level of revisions needed (since I revise in a three-level system, and try to do all the bottom fixes–which are the deepest structure first–and then finish with a final round of top dressing.

    But how to mark things is an individual choice; by a few books in, most writers have their preferences set and continue to use the same system book after book.

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