Week Three of the Write-A-Thon underway

A productive time last week, in my efforts for the Clarion West Write-A-Thon. My goal? Complete 5,000 words.

I wrote 5,149 words I like to think I’ll keep and fixed a nagging plot point by changing the gender of one of the characters.  Here’s a taste of the new stuff:

Paulie’s steam whistle shrilled Rolling Dandyman, jerking Proffitt from a nasty  dream. He’d been running through a forest, pursued by wolves, and the vivid scent of the surrounding trees lingered. Hell, he could taste it, too.

Proffitt rubbed at his mouth, dislodged some sort of rough fragment from his lips. Pine bark. He lay curled on his side in the sawdust Micah and the Burley boys scattered about the tent before the night’s show.

Someone had deep-piled blankets over him to protect him from the wind, for he lay in the open. The tent, the clay ovens and all the tent’s furnishings had been removed around him as he slept and he had remained oblivious through it all.

Proffitt felt moisture touch his cheek. All about him, the ground lay covered by an inch or so of snow, excepted for the cleared space where the tent had been. It had snowed in the night and the sky promised more snowfall soon.

The whistle shrilled again.

“Hey, boss,” Paulie shouted. “You gonna sleep all day?”

“God-damn you, Paulie,” Proffitt whispered.

Proffitt shoved his hand from beneath the blankets, rubbed away the sawdust from his hand and knuckled at his eyes. Paulie had gone beyond annoying. If Amelia wasn’t such a draw, Proffitt would just leave the obnoxious little turd to his own business today, not wait to think about it more once they hit the warmer weather they’d find in the southern Union states.

 Proffitt threw off the blankets and pushed himself to his feet. Before he could do much else, the Burley brothers scooped up the first of the blankets and began to fold it. They worked together as if they shared one mind.

“Go get something to eat, boss,” Lee said. He rolled the folded blanket into a cylinder, as his brother picked up the second covering.

“Yeah, boss,” Jake said. “We’ll take care of it.”

One look, two looks if you like, at Marley and Jacob Burley was enough to convince anyone that the brothers could take care of most anything.

The Burleys could stand beneath Proffitt’s outstretched arm without ducking but their chests and shoulders were half as wide as they were tall. Hard, tight and muscled, Lee and Jake could  lift the front end of Proffitt’s motor truck when they worked together. And they did everything together.

Best thing to do right now would be get out of their way.

More coming. Please consider sponsoring my Write-A-Thon efforts.

The Write-A-Thon: week two begins

5,100+ words last week on my quest to raise money for this year’s Clarion West Write-A-Thon.  My goal was 5,000 words.

Here’s a taste of the work in progress:

The sun looked to be a white marble that rolled through hard blue skies, an arm’s length above the southeast horizon. It provided wan light and no heat. As the morning progressed, temperatures held steady, as if the earth refused to warm.

Ice crystals covered everything. Tree branches, pushed about by a fitful wind, clattered against each other, sounding like so many giant wind chimes. Even the moisture in the air seemed frozen, as if tiny slivers of quartz floated all about them, glittering in the thin sunlight.

Their own smell, the people and the animals, drifted with them. An airborne blanket given substance by the cold, heavy and sodden, just at the edge of being unpleasant.

“Bailey’s Mill’s just up the way,”Thea said.

Her voice sounded muffled, as if in another room. They rode single file, Thea in the lead, following the trail broken in the thin layer of frozen snow by the wolf pack. Her big yellow dog, running with the pack, stopped to sniff at tracks almost covered by wind-blown snow.

Thea climbed from her horse and knelt beside the dog. “A two-wheeled cart,” she called, over her shoulder.

She and the dog hunched there in the cold, in communion for a time, before she returned to the saddle.

“They’re headed straight for the Mill,” she said. “And Yellow Dog says Dark John’s hungry.”

765 words this morning. Please consider making a donation in my name to the write-a-thon.

The Write-A-Thon is underway

I’m participating (for the first time) in the Clarion West Write-A-Thon.  It’s a fund-raising program to help defray the cost of the eighteen writers attending the 2011 Clarion West writers workshop.

The workshop began in earnest this morning and so has the Write-A-Thon.

Those of us participating have pledged to meet writing goals over the next six weeks and encourage folks to make a donation to the program, if we meet our goals.  I’m committed to write 5,000 a week, for six weeks, toward completion of my steam-punk-weird western novel Boogeyman and hope to raise $100.

If you donate at least $20 toward the cause, I’ll write you into the book as a supporting character.  Check back here, or at Facebook, to see how I’m doing. And drop by the Clarion West website to see how the campaign is progressing.

I plan to post my progress twice a week here.  I did 934 words this morning. Here’s a teaser:

They hadn’t gone another mile before the storm swept in from the northwest, dragging dark, swollen clouds that spit a cold and drumming rain.

What trees there were in this barren place creaked with the weight of accumulated ice. Patches of undergrowth threw back the last bits of daylight, looked like spun-glass sculpture. Now and again, there came the sudden snapped-bone crack of a limb giving way.

Mackie stopped near a patch of trees, waited for Nick and Young to ride up to him.

“We can stop, try to set up the tents.” the old priest had to shout to be heard over the fury of the storm.

“Go ahead, crawl inside a tent,” Young shouted back. “I ain’t going to sit nowhere and wait for that bastard and his monster-man to creep up on me.”

A hooded, snow-white poncho almost hid Young from view. It draped over most of Pinky, too, giving horse and rider the look of a misshapen, two-headed centaur. The ice-skimmed canvas cover snapped and crackled with the wind, loud enough to be heard above the storm.

“Black John has to be handicapped by this, too,” Nick said.

He had wrapped himself in a tarp found in a barn at Bailey’s Mill. It hadn’t done a lot of good. The stiff weight of the accumulated ice across the chest and back of his service coat pressed against him. His gloved hands felt stiff and clumsy. The wind-driven rain had long since battered all sensation from his face.

Young shook his head, sent flecks of ice in all directions. “Ain’t going to count on that. Don’t think you want to, neither.”

An echoing crack sounded, almost on top of them. Pinky appeared to start at the noise, sidestepped to the right. Then the horse staggered back and dropped to his rump. Only then did Nick realize the sound hadn’t been a breaking limb.

It had been a gunshot.

Pinky finished his collapse, rolled to his side, carrying the sheriff with him.

“Damn him!” Young flailed at the frozen ground, struggling to free himself from the folds of the rain tarp. “That bastard Herron shot my horse!”


At Lightspeed

I wrote first draft of Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole at Clarion West last summer.

The finished story is up at Lightspeed today. It’s an A.I.’s view of the complexities of love, space travel and quantum physics.

There’s a podcast of the story, too, and an author interview that discusses construction of the story.

I’m awfully pleased with this one.  Not only is it a good story, but it led to my invitation to the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers in July at the University of Wyoming.  Mike Brotherton, Launch Pad founder and director, has a cool non-fiction piece — Dividing Space by Zero — in this issue of  Lightspeed, too, on the peculiarities of black holes.

Check it out, if you get a chance.

At Lightspeed

Good news this morning.  John Joseph Adams has purchased my short story, Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole, for a June 2011 publication at Lightspeed magazine.

It’s my fourth pro-rates sale.

Snapshots was my “seventh” Clarion West story.  It’s about humanity’s first voyage to explore a black hole, 1,600 light years from Earth.  It’s narrator is an Artificial Intelligence named Mikhail, the communications officer of Interstellar Vessel Albert Einstein.

I had hoped to have the story done for week six critiquing at CW, but just flat ran out of time, so I substituted Gossamer Yellow, a ghost story.

Thanks, John.  I can hardly wait!

Home from Clarion West

A good deal of what I know about life, I learned from Mother Goose, and she said:

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.

To market, to market, to buy a fat hog,
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

To market, to market, to buy a plum bun,
Home again, home again, market is done.

The six weeks at Clarion West was an incredible experience, but it’s good to be home.

More about it when I don’t feel so ridden-hard and hung-out-wet. I’ll just say that Ian McDonald, our sixth-week instructor, was bloody marvelous — both as an instructor and a human being — and last day, one of our number got word that a piece of flash she wrote first week for Michael Bishop has sold to a major market.

It’s her news, so I won’t spoil it by saying any more than Hazzah!

Clarion West — Week Five

Sorry for fading away for the past three weeks.

It’s been a whirlwind.  Since day one of Clarion West, I’ve written nine stories (almost 40,000 words), read and critiqued ninety stories (closing in on half-a-million words), attended four fan parties and the Locus Awards and been to the emergency room twice (it was for food allergies and after the second trip I was covered with hives for five days, Fun and games.).

I’ve had to learn to live with seventeen strangers, aged 21 to 60, of both genders.  I’ve come to like most of them, formed what I hope will be lasting friendships with two or three, and I’ve probably pissed off all of them at one time or another over thirty-five days (Rachael will tell you I’m not always easy to get along with).  I know I’ve been pissed off myself from time to time.

All in all, though, I find the bunch of them funny, intelligent and interesting to talk with, not to mention incredibly gifted writers. Some of the stories I’ve read have moved me to tears, made me laugh and blown my mind.  They’re not my stories, so I can’t tell you about them, but I suspect you’ll have a chance to read some of them — in print — before too long.

It’s been a singular experience and there’s still a week to go. Ian McDonald is here for last week. We met him last night; he’s a bright and funny man (with a lovely Irish accent). He’s going to talk to us this week about world-building and writing other cultures and pitching stories and who knows what all.

Seventeen more stories to read and critique. One more party to attend. Then it will be over and we haven’t even had a chance to play Thing.

More when I can.

Clarion West – Week 2

The roller coaster ride continues.

Monday through Friday, five rounds of group critique on the first set of stories we’ve written here. It was intense.

Michael Bishop told us last week that we should give ourselves permission to submit less than perfect drafts. For less than perfect first drafts, the first week stories were damned good. One or two, in my opinion, are ready for magazine submission.

We continue to settle in and become accustomed to each other. There has been some head-bumping. When you get this large a group of strangers, living this close together, that’s bound to happened.

As for me, I like all seventeen of my classmates, wouldn’t change a single thing about any one of them, but then I’m easy. I like people and I have to say — again — that I am in awe of this group.

When did people so young get to be so smart?

We had three mystery muses this week — Connie Willis on Wednesday, Vonda McIntyre and Nancy Kress.  All three were funny and informative.  They talked about their careers, about working these days as an SF writer, about the differences between writing short stories and writing novels, and answered a slew of questions.  So much fun.

A couple of us had a little mini-celebration Saturday morning. One of the other participants, [identity deleted], just received word that [possessive gender pronoun masked] first published story, [title blurred], has appeared in [magazine name x-ed out] and has received a “recommended” review from [a major SF magazine].

Those of us who heard the news patted [identity deleted] on the back, applauded and shouted “That’s [expletive marked out], [profanity expunged] fantastic!”

There. Who says I can’t talk about the details of our forty-two days together and not be discrete?

I can’t say enough good things about Maureen McHugh. A week ago, I wasn’t really certain who she was, although I had read a couple of her short stories. After the last seven days, I’ve become an ardent fan.

She pours her entire being into teaching and remains just folks. Thursday night, a bunch of us went out for drinks with her and she used the casual time to continue to help us bond.

My work progresses. I submitted Kindred Soul for my Week Three story. It’s a fantasy/horror story with a senior protagonist (one of the goals I set for myself for the workshop).

I’ve also finished first draft on Seven Snapshots from a Black Hole for Week Four (another hard science fiction story that I hope to send to Analog eventually) and have a good start on a story for Week Five, Portraits Hung in Empty Halls. It’s a twist on time travel, with a protagonist other than the traveler.

In addition to all the writing, I’m not sleeping enough, eating too much and pretty much ignoring the outside world. I haven’t read a newspaper in two weeks. Not that I read a newspaper regularly before Clarion West, but I did look at one now and then.

It’s a Clarion West tradition to get some sort of gift for the outgoing instructor, something with some personal significance. Maureen admitted to us early in the week that she has a passion for post-apocalyptic tales, and so we put together a “survival” kit for her.

We gave it to her Friday afternoon, collected in a combat helmet doing double duty s a gift basket. In addition to the helmet, there was a gas mask, a multi-tool, a crank-up flashlight, water purification tablets, small bottles of alcohol (with rags for Molotov cocktails), a grimed and much-thumbed survival manual and lots of other essential odds and ends.

She loved it. Her only quibble was how she would get most of the items past Homeland Security on her flight home to Austin. We’ll deny everything, of course.

Good luck, Maureen. As someone else said, You’re the business. 😉

Nnedi Okorafor is here next week. She’ll be here tonight, this afternoon, actually. I’m looking forward to her time with us. Whenever I can find an idle moment, I’ve been reading her new novel, Who Fears Death, and it’s fantastic.

More Wednesday.


BTW, I haven’t gotten my tattoo yet. There was a funds snafu, but I think it’s worked out, so I hope to show you a picture soon.

Clarion West – Day 10

Half way through the second week.

Maureen McHugh is the instructor this week and it’s been an interesting time.  As a person, she’s laid back and friendly, very approachable, but as an instructor she intense and analytical.  It’s obvious that she cares (and thinks) a lot about what goes into a story.

One of the things she said this morning, while critiquing a story by one of the other writers, is that when she reads a story, she wants to feel that the author is totally in control of what is going on, that every element of the narrative is there for a purpose, that the author intended it to exist.

Her own writing reflects this intensity.  It’s exhilarating to think about but it’s also sort of scary.  I know I still stumble through a good part of my own stories.  Even so, my first submission, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One, got generally good critiques.  It starts out as a police procedural and along the way turns into a first contact story.  Everyone, including Maureen, seemed to understand and accept the underlying humor, and she opined that I’d succeeded in making the two aliens genuinely alien, even though the nature and presentation of their conversation is essentially human.

The group is coming together nicely.  Critiques have been insightful and honest, without being tactless and insulting.  Everyone is submitting excellent first drafts.  Several of the stories we’ve seen so far are close to being ready for submission to publications.

Apart from writing and critiquing, we’re having a good time together, which is a significant part of the process.  It’s been suggested to us several times by different people that friendships and professional relationships that we develop here will stay with us throughout our careers.

I can see the bonds forming.  We just had our second Wednesday night hour-long “tea party” and tomorrow night, after story submission deadline, most or all of us are going for cocktails with Maureen.  Three of the women got Clarion West tattoos today.  They look so great that others of us — myself including — are planning to head to the tattoo shop tomorrow.  If I don’t chicken out, I’ll post a picture of mine on Sunday.

More later.