I’m DOOMed (II)!

One of the very worst inventions in the history of literature was not open-ended reversion clauses, not the 15% agent, not even Amazon.com–it was the video game. A pernicious, insidious stealer of time, the video game has done more to damage the production of worthwhile literature than The New York Times best-seller lists.

This is not news, of course. I gave up games years ago for this very reason. Recently, however, I inherited a couple of laptop PCs. Thinking that having a Windows machine available would be handy under certain circumstances (#Macforlife), I opened them both to see which I should keep and what needed to be erased on the one I gave away. And then I met my DOOM.

See, I used to play DOOM, back in the 90s, and I still had a DOOM II CD. “I wonder,” I wondered innocently, “if one of these machines would play that CD?”

“Noooo!” Future Me screamed, but who listens? It turns out one of them did indeed play the disc, and I was returned to the low-res world of Hell. Not the Hell on Earth of the game, mind you, but the Hell of Lost Productivity and the Hell of Ow-My-Shoulders-and-Wrists!

Turns out the game wouldn’t save, so when I found myself dying repeatedly a few levels in, I gave up. Good thing, too, or I’d be in the orthopedic ward in short order. (#MovingtowardEnlightenmentsucks.) I’d also still be working on The Cosmic City in July.

So I shut all that down. I am done with video games. Too much time-suck, too much pain. Maybe when VR becomes more affordable, and they invent Virtual Writer, a game where you create an author avatar who writes all your books for you…

Oh, yes, that would I go for. Fire up the GoFundMe page, boys, I’m on the ground floor!

(And if anybody wants that DOOM II CD, it’s for sale. Cheap.)


I’ve previously mentioned that when I get near the end of a book, my output increases dramatically. So it is with The Cosmic City. I’ve had no problem the last few days exceeding my daily quota, and a couple of times I’ve doubled it–or more. Tonight I passed it, as usual, setting down the first 850 words in a blaze of speed (about 30 minutes). Given that start, 1500 words should have been no problem, maybe more.

I tapped out at around 1350.

Now, this is normally an excellent night’s work for me, and I’m not ashamed of it. But I could have done better. And while I like to blame the waning cold bug that’s been swatting me about for days, or the sirens that whine at all hours unexpectedly, or the neighbors’ barking dogs, if I look myself straight in the mirror (don’t–can you really be sure who’s staring back?), I have to admit it’s just that I’m scared.

Not scared of finishing the book…scared I won’t do a good job. I’ve been building this thing up in my head for months now, and the Good Part is finally here: the hero is marshaling his forces for the ultimate battle, but–his forces? How did I collect so many characters, and what am I going to do with them all?*

I am, of course, a staunch advocate of the Bird by Bird method of first draft writing: They’re crap. They are, more specifically, disposable crap, not intended for the eyes of any other human being. In the lingo of my day job, they are a writer’s work product. And work product is an absolute privilege.

So why am I afraid? Why can’t I plunge on? Why do I stop myself and say, “Good enough for tonight,” when I know I could do better? It’s not like I can’t edit and rewrite and rewrite and edit for the rest of my life; it’s no one’s business but my own. I’m not under contract to anyone.

Except that I am. To myself, if no one else, and to others, if they read the book. I owe it to all of us to deliver the best, most slam-bang ending I can type out, and like every other writer, I’m afraid I’m not up to the task. So I sneak up on it. I may not get there as quickly as with a wild screaming charge, but I’ll get there. And probably with a wild screaming 3000-word charge at the end.

Because I want to see how this turns out as much as anybody.

*And since this is the end of the trilogy, I really need to wrap up all the character arcs in a burst of glory.


Every once in a while, there’s nothing that will fill the void in your soul besides a good mystery yarn. It doesn’t have to be something they put on Masterpiece Theatre with family secrets going back a generation leading to murder, nor does it have to be a Raymond Chandler triple-cross love triangle. Sometimes, the mystery is real. And the real ones are the best, because you can’t always wrap them up in 80,000 words. Sometimes they go on for years. Some of the best mysteries go on for centuries.

Take my favorite: the Loch Ness Monster. Now I know that the odds of a plesiosaur living in a Scottish lake are minuscule, at best. But that has not kept me from scanning those placid waters like a hawk every time I’ve been there, nor did it make me any less nervous when I took a ride across that dark pond on a foggy day. Scientists and curious amateurs keep bringing more and more sophisticated technology to the problem, but with luck they’ll never prove definitively that the old girl doesn’t exist. And they shouldn’t! (If nothing else, it would hurt the Scottish tourism industry.)

But now it appears that another mystery, of nearly equal vintage, has been solved: the Shakespeare Identity Question. The head archivist at the Folger Library, Dr. Heather Wolfe, claims to have “the smoking gun” that will put the controversy to rest. To this, I have two responses: (1) it won’t, and (2) finally!

Normally, as with Nessie, or Bigfoot, or the Kardashians, we will never be able to get to the truth of the matter, and we’re happier for it. Some things are better left unexplained. But this one, this one I’ve always thought was rather dopey. The best evidence I’ve ever heard for someone else having written Shakespeare was that Shakespeare didn’t write it. Not really a winning argument.* So if this is done at last, so be it. There are many more and better mysteries to be solved.

Like, what is it with those Kar–no, like I said, some things are better left unexplained. And unasked.

*Besides, I explained it right here.

I have a feeling that this is going to be a fine year, writing-wise. I make that prediction based entirely on the unscientific fact today that I made my first story submission of the year, and I haven’t yet been rejected by anybody. I’m ahead! Woohoo! Call the game! I win!

Well, yeah, no. There are reasons to believe that this year will be different from last, but that’s not one of them. I will be finishing The Cosmic City (this month), and after that I have no plans for writing another novel for a while. (Which has never stopped me before…) I’m really hoping to focus on shorter works this year. There’s one I’ve been working at off and on for some time now, and I think I could finish it if I could just settle down to the job. I have high hopes for that one, but I have to get it right.

It would be easier if I could just write faster, especially in regard to the novels. The funny thing is, I can. I know that if I’m working from a relatively detailed outline, I can easily double my usual daily output. It also happens when I’m near to the end of the book, as I am now. The trouble is I can’t stick to an outline. I have pages of notes for The Cosmic City next to my laptop and I barely look at them. My characters keep doing things I wasn’t expecting. I guess they haven’t read my outline.

As to short stories, I’ve never been able to outline those. For me, the entire process of writing a short story is different from writing a novel, because I can keep the whole thing in my head. Which doesn’t help me write them any faster.

But this is a new year, and the time is ripe for resolutions. I have resolved, for example, that I will spend a significant period (months, if necessary) outlining my next book to try to cut down the writing time. Of course, I’ve also resolved that I’m not going to write any novels for a while, so maybe I’m just getting an early start on 2018.

See? I’m moving faster already.



2016 in Review

As we wave good-bye to the tragi-comedy that has been 2016, I present you with the summation of my writing year, for whatever it might be worth. (Probably more to me than you.)

Submissions: 96. Trust me, this is a lot more than I thought. I credit the dozens of markets available today; when I started, there were three. Twelve of these subs are still outstanding.

Sales: 9. This is a record. Four original stories, five reprints. One of the original stories, moreover, was solicited by an editor. That was a first. (Woohoo!) The most-rejected of the original stories, “Hoskins’ War”  (appearing in Cirsova), had been rejected five times. Of the reprints, “Grinpa” (appearing in an upcoming volume of Digital Quick Fiction) had been rejected eight times before it first sold; this will be the first time it is reprinted.

Words written: 72,433. This is not in and out itself an impressive number, but in my own defense it only counts original works, not the extensive re-writing of older stories (some of which I sold). I would guess the true number to be closer to 90,000. The bulk of these words (66,000) are contained in The Cosmic City, which will be done very soon. I promise!

I also appeared on a panel, for the first time in, oh, let’s just say since I began selling, at Loscon. It was on what life would have been like without Star Trek. I was the guy who half-seriously pointed out how Star Trek had delayed some technical innovation. Nobody threw any tomatoes.

So that’s how I spent my free time. This is the first time I’ve added up these numbers; there are some surprises. Next year, I want to write more original fiction (easier when you’re not concentrating on a novel), and of course I want to sell more. With any luck, those things will go hand-in-hand.

I guess it’s up to me.

Happy New Year!


Please check out this glowing review of The Invisible City at the Seagull Rising blog!



I spent the Christmas break catching up on my laziness. Work has been more than usually busy lately, the ebb and flow having gained flow quite noticeably as the year ebbed.* And one evening, as I flipped through the 4000 channels in search of something to watch, I found a gold mine: a Thin Man movie marathon. I think Nick Charles (as played by the iconic William Powell) is the paragon of Thirties’ suavity, urbane, witty, cool under fire, a genius detective…I want to dress like him, talk like him… yes, I want to be him. But not because of any of those qualities I just described. Oh no. I want to be Nick Charles because he’s married to Nora.

Nora Charles. Brought to life by the incomparable Myrna Loy, Nora is unflappable, game for adventure, and fiercely loyal to her Nicky. What man could want more? The first time I saw The Thin Man, I fell in love with Nora Charles and Myrna Loy. I still love them today. (It’s okay, the wife knows.)

Now, I have all the movies on DVD already, and the only reason I haven’t watched them all is because I don’t want to finish the series: I always want to have at least one to look forward to. So the fact that they were now on TV should not have meant much, but we all know the joy of that serendipitous discovery is greater than that of knowing you could just pull the movies off the shelve and watch them any old time.

And then–disaster. Idly scanning the channel guide during a commercial, I discovered that at the same time there was playing on another network a Godzilla marathon. Great Scott! What to do? There are a lot more Godzilla movies than Thin Man movies, and I don’t have most of them on DVD.

Have you ever channel-flipped between the most charming crime-fighting marriage of the 1930s and the greatest man-in-a-rubber-suit monster of the 20th century? I have–now.

And let me tell you, it ain’t Heaven. First, you miss a lot. No matter which one you favor, you’re going to miss pieces while you’re watching the other. Second, there can be too much of a good thing, even with your favorite shows. I could probably watch two or three Thin Man movies in a row before my eyes started to fall out, but it was late that night and I was getting sleepy, so I stopped after 1 1/2 when I realized I’d seen the next one anyway.

But at the point, I didn’t know what “too much of a good thing” meant. It turned out the Godzilla marathon ran for three days. And for three days, I spent all of my free time in front of the TV sucking down the movie equivalent of empty calories. Big calories, but empty. And I started to appreciate what I had known for years: Although all Godzilla movies are not the same, but they might as well be. Honestly, it’s hard to get invested in the Japanese army with its super-weapons when, even if they manage to hit Godzilla (how do they ever miss?), they can’t stop him. It’s one thing to watch such an exercise in futility once in a while, but for three days straight?

So yes, it is possible to get too much of a good thing, no matter how much you love it. At least, it is as far as television is concerned. At the end of the day, I realized something else, something far more important: The person with whom I spend my life doesn’t watch Godzilla movies, but she left me alone that whole weekend to do as I pleased. So I went back to her. Some things that you love, you never get enough of.


*A tortured metaphor, I know, but indulge me.