All posts in Ludmila My Love

27th February, 2011: The lost weekend

Let’s call this day two of a two-day break. I meant to do something constructive today, honest, but what with scones with clotted cream and jam for breakfast and the Dragon Age 2 demo to finish on the PS3, and Fight Club to read and John Lennon documentaries on TV (which were great until I realised I’m now older than Lennon was in 1971 when he was recording Imagine), well… I deserved a break.

But I have made a list. I like lists. Lists are good. This coming week I need to:

  • Write 2,000 words a day
  • Tweak the synopsis for The Suicide Tree
  • Work up sample chapters for The Suicide Tree
  • Have a story conference with co-author Kate about the next few chapters of Godless
  • Continue work on Hang Wire
  • Work on plots for a couple of ideas on my corkboard that are burning a hole in my brain
  • Develop a proper synopsis for Ludmila, My Love
  • Catch up on overdue blog posts for Escape Pod.

The first item is now the priority seeing as my editing is out of the way. Those 2,000 words a day will include the chapters of The Suicide Tree and whatever I get done on Hang Wire, but I wouldn’t count the plotting and synopsising in that. It also makes sense to do the synopsis for Ludmila, My Love this week as the whole book is still fresh in my mind. If the beta-readers suggest any major changes, it’ll be easy enough to amend the synopsis. It’ll be great to have a submission-ready manuscript soon for this book, but that can’t be sent anywhere without a two-page synopsis.

Godless hasn’t moved since I sent my last (long) chapter off to Kate a couple of weeks ago, but I might have digressed from the outline a little, hence the need for a Skype call about it. Writing a book with two authors in different parts of the world is pretty cool, but the length of time the project takes means that both of us tend to forget what is going on when it comes to writing our bits. But I think it’ll be a pretty cool book when it’s done.

The couple of ideas on my corkboard that are demanding attention are the ideas vying for their place as the next book written after Hang Wire is done, which in theory should only be a month or so away. Which means I need to figure out which idea is the most exciting and which has the most potential. I’ve got a feeling I know which it is, so for the moment I’ll give it the codename Night Pictures. The index card on my corkboard is actually without a title anyway, so that will suffice as a WIP title. I’m not sure it works as a proper title, but it is pleasant on the eye for some reason.

Which means I can now relax and enjoy the rest of my Sunday. I feel absurdly lazy and guilty about being lazy and guilty about not doing anything writing related. Seems I might hooked on this business.

26th February, 2011: Ludmila goes beta!

So I finished the final edit of Ludmila, My Love a whole  three days ahead of schedule. I surprised myself actually, as I was sure the last act (out of four) would require a little more re-working than it ultimately did. But that’s good. So now, they’re all out in the wild, and all I can do it sit and wait until the end of March.

Although I didn’t do any writing writing this last week, the final draft of Ludmila is actually much longer than the previous version. That one clocked in at 94,481 words, and the final draft is 104,366. Which means I’ve actually added 9,885 words to it. It may even be more, as there were deletions as well as additions, so it would be safe to say I wrote 10,000 words this week at least. This brings my total words for the year up to 65,976, which is still behind schedule, but 10k is 10k so I’ll take that.

Today is therefore a day off! No editing, and no writing until tomorrow. Which, I have to say, feels a bit weird. Like… what do people do when they aren’t writing/editing? Hmm. I’ll let you know when I figure it out. In the meantime, reading-wise, I’ve put a hold on Firestarter after about 150 pages. It just isn’t gripping me at all, and it’s the first Stephen King book since The Shining which I haven’t really enjoyed. However, I can read it in chunks and treat it as a multi-volume story. To fill the gap I’ve started Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. The film adaptation is one of my favourite films, and I’m pleased to see how close it is to the book. It’s a real breath of fresh air after struggling through the first section of Firestarter.

24-25th February, 2011: The words that maketh murder

Oh, I missed a blog post yesterday, but not intentionally. This week has been/still is an intensive editing bootcamp as I polish Ludmila, My Love into the final draft for my beta-readers. This has also shown me that focussing solely on editing above all other writing activities was exactly the right thing to do – there has been nothing else but Ludmila this week, and even when I haven’t actually been editing on screen I’ve been editing in my head. Total immersion.

And it works, because I really think Ludmila is quite a good little book. It’s space opera sci-fi (although small in scale – there are spaceships and strange stars but everything happens in the dark on the wreck of a space station), it’s a traditional ghost story with all the trappings, it’s a mystery novel. As I’ve been working the manuscript over from top to bottom I’ve discovered new connections and plot threads which appear to have woven themselves into the story. As a person who is generally nervous of the dark (which comes with being a fan of ghost stories, I guess), I have on more than one occassion creeped myself out with the story and had to call it a night.

However, all that is merely the foundation. Once happy with the manuscript, it goes to my beta-readers, and they tell me what they think. It’s of no use whatsoever if I’m the only person in the world who likes the book. My gut feeling is that they will like it, possibly more than Empire State even, but once I actually send it off I’m resetting my expectations to zero.

My soundtrack over the last couple of days has shifted from retro 90s nostalgia to something brand new: Let England Shake by PJ Harvey. I’ve been a listener – I wouldn’t say fan – of hers since 1993, and until now have always preferred her first two albums (Dry and Rid of Me) when PJ Harvey was the name of the whole band. But her new album Let England Shake, recorded in a church in Dorset, is quite a remarkable album and one that I discovered with perfect timing. It’s folky and whimsical, but also dark and creepy, consisting mostly of songs about (for some reason) World War I. It’s an album of ghost songs, really, which seems to fit rather well with me editing a ghost story. The title of this blog comes from one of the best tracks on the album… it doesn’t quite fit Ludmila, My Love, but it has the right kind of tone and gives me an idea for another story.

I’ve reached page 354 out of 387 and should have the last 33 pages finished today. The total page count has been changing as so far I’ve added about 8,000 words to the draft in this pass.

23rd February, 2011: Not the best week ever

22nd February, 2011: Luscious beats for editing

Today’s editing was done mostly to Luscious Jackson, that long-forgotten all-female hip-hop/alt/indie group from, you guessed it, the 90s. I must confess to not being their greatest fan, knowing them only from a couple of (killer) tracks (Deep Shag and Under Your Skin, mainly). But not being familiar with most of their work is actually a good thing. It’s perfectly pleasant music to edit to, and very easy to have on loop in the background as I try to hammer chapters of Ludmila, My Love into shape.

Progress is being made. 204 pages down, 170 and 6 days to go.

21st February, 2011: I <3 the 90s

Let’s be honest here – there will not be a lot of bloggery this week. I have beta-readers waiting for Ludmila, My Love to drop on Tuesday. I’m still working the manuscript over. This is not a week to be chatty.

So, I mentioned yesterday I have a playlist of music to edit by. It’s just a selection of eight songs which runs to about 30 minutes, and for this particular draft it’s a handy way of keeping track of time. With the playlist on repeat, I know when track one rolls around again I’ve been going for a half hour. Third time around is an hour, and so on. By the time I get to the end of this pass on Ludmila, My Love, I’m sure I’ll be sick of the songs in question, but I did choose them pretty carefully.

Anyway, yesterday was Tegan and Sara, and today it’s Letters to Cleo. Yes, Letters to Cleo. I have no shame. Mid-90s grunge-pop at its finest, if such a term could be applied, but you have to admit, this song is pretty catchy. And the video is pretty cute. And very, very 90s. Could be worse, of course. Could be Veruca Salt.

Apparently they’re still going too. Like I should be. Back to the edits.

151 pages down, 220 and 7 days to go.

20th February, 2011: Keep it down, kids!

Shhh. Editing in progress.

Actually, I like to write to music and I like to edit to it as well. Here’s on track on my edit playlist for Ludmila, My Love.

102 pages down, 265 and 8 days to go.

19th February, 2011: Time to switch

Time to change things around. I’m writing a novel about superheroes and serial killers called Hang Wire. I’m over one-third the way in, and I quite like it. As with anything, it’ll need work at the second draft, but that’s what the second draft is for.

Meanwhile I’ve got a talented bunch of beta-readers with the entire month of March booked to look at Ludmila, My Love. I’ve got ten days to go, and the manuscript for this isn’t ready.

Hang Wire has no deadline, and once completed, will be left in a virtual drawer for a while until I forget most of it. Ludmila, My Love has a deadline and a group of people who have put time aside to kick the crap out of it.

Editing is a bit like revising for an exam – you’ve done all the work, and now you need to go back and revise, revise, revise. As the exam date nears, the revision becomes the top priority if you want to ace the test. So it goes for Ludmila, My Love. So far, it seems like quite a cool book. I want Ludmila to be crazy-ass good, and crazy-ass good requires work.

So from today editing comes first and writing comes second. While that means I won’t hit 2,000 new words a day, none of that is of much use anyway if I don’t take the time to go back and fix everything. Ludmila, My Love needs to be fixed, and when I send it to my beta-readers I want them to ooh and ahh and then tell me what else needs fixing.

So, for yesterday:

Project: Hang Wire (superheroes and serial killers in San Francisco)
Words today: 2,067
Words total: 39,058/100,000 (37%) 39058
Total words for 2011: 58,043

About ten pages of Ludmila, My Love redrafted. Looking good and full steam ahead for this week.

18th February, 2011: Thursdayitis

Urgh. Thursdayitis strikes. Arthur Dent could never get the hang of Thursdays, and I know how he feels. Maybe it has something to do with being born on a Thursday, although you’d think that would grant you some kind of magical luck. Not for me.

Yesterday’s highlight was finishing off our Firefly rerun with Serenity, which for some reason I didn’t enjoy as much as I usually do. I think watching it back-to-back with the TV series is not necessarily a good thing, as Serenity doesn’t really feel like Firefly. I think it’s because Serenity is too space opera science fiction and lacks any Western elements, although that’s a necessity of the plot, dealing as it does with the Alliance and the Reavers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great film, but not one without faults.

Only half a chapter on Hang Wire , and I’m pretty sure all of yesterday’s words will be going in the edit bin at some point. That happens sometimes – you gotta get the bad stuff out to let the good stuff flow. Although I do quite like the idea of Ted, our hero, finding his lost cellphone in a freezer in a Chinese supermarket.

Project: Hang Wire (superheroes and serial killers in San Francisco)
Words today: 1,016
Words total: 36,991/100,000 (37%)
Total words for 2011: 55,976

Not enough of this either. Only a few pages of Ludmila, My Love polished, although in contrast to the above I was pretty happy with it.

No Firestarter yesterday, but a bit more of another novella set to appear alongside The Wasp in the Lotus in Her Majesty’s Mysterious Conveyance from Echelon Press. Good, too, and quite a different (and fantastical) take on steampunk.

17th February, 2011: Leave it to the reader

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. Suffice to say, it was far and away my favourite book of 2010. I hope it wins a BSFA award this Easter. I hope it wins a Hugo – it deserves to, for sure. I reviewed Zoo City and interviewed Lauren last year over at Dark Fiction Review, but a couple of things I’ve been working on reminded me of the key reason why I love Zoo City, why I think Zoo City works, and why I think it should win a lot of awards. Minor spoilers ahead, although I don’t think they do any harm if you haven’t read it yet (why the hell haven’t you, anyway?) because the book isn’t actually about this. This is just an aspect of it. I think it’s the aspect that is critical, but it’s nothing to do with the plot as such.

In Zoo City, nothing is explained. Nobody knows where the animals come from, or why they come to those who have committed crimes. Nobody knows how it started or quite when. Nobody knows what the Undertow is, although a few people have seen it in action. There are a lot of theories, but I like to think the (fictional) author of the academic paper on the Undertow presented within the book is well out of his depth, trying to apply current scientific understanding to a possibly supernatural, or at least super-normal, phenomenon.

Because none of the mechanics of being animalled are explained or understood, the reader gets the sense of something much larger and much darker at work. Suddenly the universe is far stranger place. With nothing explained Zoo City goes from being a medium-sized SF novel about a weird near-future South Africa to a small slice of much, much larger world, one that we (the readers) want to learn more about. When the book ends, the story itself is wrapped up but we’re left with a whole bunch of questions. We want more, more, more.

I know I’m a late-comer to this, but last year I discovered a “new” favourite film – Assault on Precinct 13, written and directed by John Carpenter (I’m talking the 1976 original here, not the 2005 remake). Assault on Precinct 13 is a very simple action film – a street gang declares war ona defunct police precinct, and it’s up to a rookie policeman Ethan Bishop to defend the building through the night with the help of convicted killer Napoleon Wilson. That’s all there is to it.

Why then does Assault on Precinct 13 – an action film with little action – qualify as one of my favourite films? Because nothing is explained. Napoleon Wilson is a convicted killer on his way to death row, but he doesn’t answer another policeman’s question about why he “killed those men”, and his actions suggest his crime was a far more complex affair than just cold-blooded murder. Ethan Bishop is a new on the job and we see him leave his house at the beginning but that’s about as much as we know about his background. The gang, Street Thunder, swear blood revenge on the police after several members were killed in a police ambush, but the apparently supernatural nature of their oath, Cholo, goes unremarked. Street Thunder also never speak, and when they retreat after the first siege at the precinct, they tidy the bodies of their fallen away very quickly. Too quickly, as one of the men inside the station comments, quietly, to himself. Are Street Thunder even human?

Leaving the details to the imagination of the reader, or viewer, is key here. The monster lurking behind a closed door, with only the sound of creaking floorboards and a shadow under the door, is much scarier than showing the thing itself, as the reader’s imagination goes into overdrive, filling in with ill-defined and generally impossible detail. Lovecraft was a master of this – while he often went to extraordinary lengths to throw adjectives at things (one of his key points of style, and another reason why he’s my favourite dead author), actual description was sometimes thin. He would emphasise the point again and again that something was horrific, terrifying, or mind-rendingly incomprehensible (and usually a combination of all three), without actually saying why or how. As a result, you create the detail yourself with whatever your subconscious can dream up. The end result is much more effective. It’s writing advice as old as the hills – leave it to the reader, leave it to their imagination.

Not everyone agrees, of course. I read a negative review of Zoo City which complained that nothing was explained and therefore nothing made sense. Likewise Assault on Precinct 13 has more of a cult following than a wider one, because a lot of original audience thought the lack of explanation and detail was a pulp-style shortcut on the part of Carpenter. Many critics slam Lovecraft for breaking the cardinal rule of show, don’t tell by doing the exact opposite.

The book I’m editing at the moment, Ludmila, My Love, and the synopsis I’ve just finished for another, The Suicide Tree, contain unexplained elements. In both cases I wrote what I wrote knowing that an explanation or mechanism would be needed, but that I could worry about that later. Now, working on both projects concurrently, I’m not sure I need to. If my point-of-view characters don’t understand what’s going on, do I need to break into the unfashionable omniscience third-person perspective (which would screw the rest of the book up, given that both are told from a couple of different third-person personal perspectives), or do I gift the knowledge of events to some other characters and have them infodump it somehow? And if so, why, exactly?

But I’ll just leave it, I think. I want to give the reader something to think about. I’ll provide the building blocks and the prompt, and they can go and create whatever they like.

Incidentally, as well as being eligible for the Hugo award for Best Novel, Lauren Beukes is still eligible for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. While not a Hugo award, this is nominated, voted and awarded concurrently with the Hugos. Click here for more information on the Hugos and how to nominate and how to vote for them.

Hang Wire is pootling along nicely. I’m now into the second third of the book, and some bizarreness at the circus is starting to occur. In an unexpected twist of events, another character witnessed said bizarreness at first-hand, and was seen herself by the bad guy. I had planned this particular character to be present for the rest of the book, but it looks like she might meet a sticky end. I love it when the unexpected happens!

Project: Hang Wire (superheroes and serial killers in San Francisco)
Words today: 2,099
Words total: 35,975/100,000 (34%)
Total words for 2011: 54,960

It’s now full-steam ahead on Ludmila, My Love. I hope to get it to my beta-readers on 1st March, but we’ll see. The current draft is a little short (about 95,000 words versus the 100,000 to 110,000 that I want), but already by the end of chapter four I’ve added quite a lot of text, so by the time I hit the end I expect the numbers to be about right. I know for a fact that one particular sequence towards the end needs beefing up, and that might account for the additional words all on its own anyway.

Books: some pages of Firestarter by Stephen King. I’m enjoying it, but it doesn’t seem to have that page-turning quality that his other books do. I had the same problem with The Shining, which so far is my least favourite work of his. Anyway, keep on keeping on.