Party in the UK and Japan

Some good news: Afterparty will be translated into English. As in English English, which may include changing all my mid-word Z’s to S’s, as their organisations are wont to do. They also say wont a lot. The book will be published in the UK by Titan Books on August 18, 2014, which coincides with Loncon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention. We’ll be doing some kind of launch activity there. Many thanks to John Berlyne at Zeno Agency, who brokered the deal. He’s an absurdly tall man, but he uses his powers for good.

Soon after learning about the Titan Books deal, I learned that Afterparty would also be translated into Japanese. The books’ been picked up by Tokyo Shogensa, via Misa Morikawa at Tuttle Mori Agency. This is the first time I’ve had a book published in either country. So that’s cool.

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The Spreadsheet of Shame

I used to have this idea that real writers could point to a deadline in the distance like Babe Ruth aiming his bat at the center field bleachers, and then, through the powers of professionalism, just start writing and hit that thing.

Turns, out, I’m no Babe Ruth. I can’t write a novel in one mighty swing. And there’s no urgency to a deadline twelve months away, or even six. I’ve found that the only way I can hit my deadlines (and I’ve hit every major one I’ve committed to, thank you braggy much) is to leverage daily amounts of shame. Or at least the risk of shame.

The best way to do this is to announce your goals — a daily word count, for example — to your loved ones and trusted colleagues, and have them ask you how it’s going on a regular basis. Say, every day at the dinner table. This is effective because we’re basically chimps, social animals evolved to respond to public opprobrium and approbation. (Cats don’t feel shame, which is why no one ever wants them on project teams.) 

But this daily confession can be wearing on your loved ones, and worse on your colleagues, because you keep calling during dinner. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some device to make you feel that glow of approval, or that heat of disgrace? 

Which brings us to the Spreadsheet of Shame.

For every big writing project in the past five years, I’ve used an Excel sheet to track word counts. It’s gotten more elaborate with each project — because when you’re starting something new, one of the best ways to procrastinate is to work on something you tell people will make you more productive. This latest version has pretty graphs to show me when I’m falling behind, and cells that turn red when I’m under my goal.

For example, here’s what it looked like at the beginning of the writing of my YA novel:

SpreadsheetOfShame Harrison Data

See all those red cells? I had a tough time getting started. That’s per usual. Also, notice that the goal in the first few weeks (that D column) was a lousy 500 words per day,  a rate that somebody like Tim Pratt would scoff at, and I still couldn’t match. Then I started catching up, and I ramped up my goals to 1,000 words a day, then 1,500.

There are a couple graphs I use to show my word counts each day, and how I’m stacking up cumulatively.

SpreadsheetOfShame Harrison Daily

SpreadsheetOfShame Harrison Cum

When things are going well — meaning, when that blue line is over the red one — I gaze upon these graphs in loving admiration. What a fine person I am! When that red line is above the blue one — and sometimes it’s way above — I beweep my outcast state.

Over the years I’ve shared the S.O.S. with a few writer friends, and now I’m sharing with you. If it helps you, fantastic. If it doesn’t, then use a more public form of shaming.

First, download it

At the start of your project, do this:

SpreadsheetOfShame Setup

  1. Save the file with a new name.
  2. In the Data tab, pick a start date. In A3, enter the next Sunday when you’re going to start tracking. It needs to be a Sunday.
  3. In B2, enter the number of words you’ve written before you started tracking. This can be zero.
  4. In F1, enter the number of words you want to write per day. (This is only the default amount — you can change individual days.)
  5. In J1, enter what you think might be the ending word count. This is only used to calculate the percentage complete in column I. It doesn’t affect the graphs.
  6. If you know you’re not going to write on some day — say, Arbor Day, because who works on Arbor Day? —  go ahead and put a zero into the cells for that day in column D.

Then every day, do this:

  1. In column B, enter the total word count in the doc. (All the other columns will update to show how many words you wrote that day, and what your % complete is.)
  2. In column G, you can leave notes about what you worked on that day. Or (and this is more common, in my experience) to explain why you didn’t reach your goal that day.

And that’s it. The other tabs are graphs to show your daily output, in, well, graphical terms. That’s why they call them graphs. They’re graphic.

Oh, yeah. When you start to fall behind,  column F starts turning red. That would be the shame aspect of the document. But really, it’s the graphs that make me realize when I’m slipping.

And hey, it’s only an excel doc, so you get to do anything with it you want.

First Responders: Afterparty is out!

Oh my, it’s leaking into the world. Afterparty, my next novel, won’t be published until April 22, but the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy, for you civilians) has been sent out. This is always a weird time for a writer. You’ve sent your darling off to kindergarten, and you hope the other kids aren’t making fun of her for those weird clothes you made her put on. (“But honey, all the genre kids LOVE neuroscience!”)

The first person to post is Rose Fox, editor at Publishers Weekly. This is Rose’s personal blog, and it’s not an official review, but it’s reassuring to hear the first reports. Rose read it in a day!

I’m down with A.R.C. Yeah, You Know Me.

It’s always a nice moment when the Advance Readers’ Copy of a new book arrives. This time, Tor did a full-color ARC, and the deep red is beautiful to mine eyes. Though my hair isn’t. There’s something about this angle that makes me look like Marge Simpson. Give it up, Daryl. Enjoy the moment. Stop worry about your God damn hair. There are people in China who don’t even HAVE hair.

So. One step closer. May the reviewing Gods like this book.
AfterpartyArcCropped

Iain Banks

Iain Banks has posted a message on the Banksophilia website: he has terminal cancer, and his next book, The Quarry, will likely be his last.

I’m not much of a fanboy. I don’t follow the lives of writers. Meet too many of them, and you realize that if you love books, you’re probably better off not knowing too much about the people who create them. The stories are what matter, and they’ll always be there.

But this news has knocked me back. I first read The Wasp Factory, his first novel, back in college. My friend Nancy Neibur pressed it into my hands and said, “I think you’ll like this.” Oh Jesus did I. I’d never read anything like it.

Then, years later, I read Consider Phlebus, the first of his Culture novels, and was bowled over twice: once by the audacity of the book, and second by the fact that it was written by the same man who’d written The Wasp Factory. I don’t even like space opera, but here was a writer who’d reinvented it, jazzed it up, and made me turn pages in the way I did when I was ten. But this was entertainment for adult brains. The language and narrative structure were as much a part of the joy as talking spaceships.

I went back and got my own copy of The Wasp Factory, then proceeded to hunt down everything he wrote. When I went to England 16 years ago I made sure to find every book I couldn’t get in the US (this was in the pre-internet days, when it was tough to get UK versions), under both his names: He writes SF as Iain M. Banks, and “mainstream” as Iain Banks, though sometimes you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.  In both modes he’s the master of the grand set piece, capable of wheeling out one seven-layer cake of strangeness after another. He is able to end a 700 page novel with a sentence that makes my jaw drop.

I don’t read him like a writer looking to steal his tricks.  I don’t read him critically at all. I read him like a fan. And at this stage of my life, after 25 years of writing, there are precious few people in that category.

Would anyone but a fan name his son “Ian”?

So Mr. Banks: You’re not dead yet, but it’s looking grim. Before you go, I just wanted to say thanks, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

Your fan,

–d

The Next Big Meme, er THING: Afterparty

So there’s a meme goin’ round, with writers talking about their upcoming books, and tagging other writers, and all of us answer the same  questions. My pal Ian Tregellis (whose got TWO books coming out in 2013, one that completes his very cool Milkweed Trilogy about super-soldier psionics versus warlocks in World War II and beyond) tagged me last week.

If you want to follow the bouncing Meme, next week my pal Jack Skillingstead will be talking about his fabulous new SF novel Life on the Preservation, coming out in 2013.

Now here’s the thing: some of the questions in this meme are a bit off, and they come in the wrong order. So I’ve rearranged to suit. (Me. To suit me.) Also, this is the first time I’ve talked about this book online. So, I’m basically offering this scoop to myself.

Here we go!

1: What is the working title of your next book?

The working title is Afterparty. My own private subtitle for it, the name I call it when I’m singing it to sleep, is The Atheist’s Prayerbook.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Before Don LaFontaine died, I had him record a voiceover for the book. His estate won’t let me post the audio, but the text of it is: “In a world where God is a drug, one woman has to get sober.”

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

See, I’m going to pretend that this was a two part question starting with “What’s the book about?”

Afterparty is about a drug called Numinous that opens up a portal to God–or at least a convincing illusion of one. The protagonist is Lyda Rose, a neuroscientist who helped create the drug. Ten years ago someone overdosed her and four other coworkers (including her wife, who died), and ever since Lyda has been haunted by a permanent angel–Dr. Gloria. Lyda tries to remind herself that the doctor is just a manifestation of her temporal lobe, but the angel is awfully hard to argue with.

The book is also about neuro-atypcial people in general, and all the ways that our brains are fooling us, often for our own benefit. I’m happy to report that the book includes the only combination  sex scene / debate over free will in any science fiction book.

The ideas came from the short stories I’ve been writing over the past decade. Many of them were concerned with the so-called hard questions of neuroscience: What is consciousness? How do we construct a self? And do we have free will or is it all a massive prank pulled on us by our own neurons? Some of these questions have crept into the fringes of my novels, but I wanted to write a book that took on these ideas head on.

3: What genre does your book fall under?

Afterparty falls in the genre that my editor, David Hartwell calls “Neuro SF” — hard science fiction about neuroscience. You could further sub-categorize it by calling it near future neuro SF. I found that I didn’t need to set the book very far from today, because current research about what’s going on in our brains is mindblowing enough.

It’s also a drug novel, and  a crime novel. I’m a lifelong reader of Elmore Leonard and Philip K Dick, and it’s clear now that their books have been having sex in my head and hatching strange babies.

4:  What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have a stipulation in my contract that any adaption must take the form of claymation.

6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

See, that’s a weird question. The “or” part I mean. Because it’s not self-published, but I am represented by the amazing Martha Millard. The book will be coming out from TOR, and edited by the also amazing David Hartwell.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I wrote the first three chapters five or six times over the course of a year in which I was mostly working on other things. The direction of the book changed radically with each draft. Once I finally settled on a line of attack, it took about seven months to write, counting rewrites. Actually, I’m writing the last chapter this week, and I’ll be rewriting as soon as my writer friends explain to me what’s wrong with it.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t know any other near future neuro SF books. Can someone help me out? But if we compare to books set further into the future on this topic, then I’d be pleased if they put this story in the same genre as Peter Watts’ Blindsight or Greg Egan’s books about consciousness.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was inspired by the neuroscientists who took the time to write books for lay people, so that I could rip them off and write SF stories about their research: V.S. Ramachandran, Antonio Damasio, Daniel Wegner, and the dean of neuro porn, the man wrote the first book that got me interested in the strangeness of the human mind: Oliver Sacks. These people write brilliant books that are non-fiction but read like science fiction.

10: What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Did I mention the free will debate / sex scene? Okay, how about people like these?

  • A voluntary sociopath
  • A man who carries his mind in a plastic aquarium treasure chest
  • Native America Cigarette smugglers
  • Frat boys throwing drug-induced “Gay for a Day” parties

Get Ripped Off!

So a new story of mine is in this audio anthology called RIP-OFF! by Audible.com, edited by Gardner Dozois, and coming out Dec. 18 2012, just in time for Groundhog’s Day. And you, my friend, can pick the cover. Below are the three choices, but you can vote on Facebook here.  And if you’re in the mood, you can pre-order.

Every story is a brand-new science fiction or fantasy tale that begins with a famous first line. Allen Steele starts his hardboiled detective story with “Call me Ishmael.”  Nancy Kress dares to take on one of the most maligned first lines of all:  “It was a dark and stormy night.”

My story “Begone” starts with the first line from one of my favorite novels, Dickens’ David Copperfield:  “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” The story goes on to consider the plight of a man who’s been replaced in his own life by someone taller and more handsome. Anyone who grew up on 60’s sitcoms will recognize the poor bastard.

So vote!


Rip-Off! Cover 1

Rip-Off! Cover 2

 

Rip-Off! Cover 3

Geffen Awards

I got an email tonight from Rani Graff of Graff Publishing, my publisher in Israel, reminding me that this is the week of the Geffen Awards– and the Hebrew version of my first novel, Pandemonium, is up for Best Translated Book. It should also be up for Best Cover Ever, but evidently they don’t have a category for that.

Other nominees are: Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson, Accelerando by Charles Stross, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and Catching Fire (Hunger Games, Part 2) by  some nobody named Suzanne Collins. Hah! I kid! Please, Suzanne, do not have me killed in an open field by photogenic teenagers.

The Geffen Awards are presented by the Israeli Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy, and are not named after media titan David Geffen. (You can read about the Amos Geffen and the award on this English version of their web page — which only goes up to 2008. If you can read Hebrew, go here.)

I’m so grateful to Rani Graff for bringing the book to Israel, and to Didi Chanoch for doing the translation. Didi’s a hugely energetic guy that I got to meet in person last year at World Fantasy. (Didi, I’m sorry that the first time we talked I was having trouble speaking English. But you, sir, were eloquent in two languages.)

Rani and Didi, I’m pulling for you!

UPDATE 10/4/12: Alas, it’s photogenic, homicidal teenagers for the win. Pandemonium lost to Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire. Not even my mother is surprised by that.

Reading at the Tuesday Funk

I’ve been away. Mostly writing, writing hard, like a veritable pony express rider — nay, Pony Express Writer. Bringing the words ‘cross the plains, people.  Soon — after contracts have been signed, etc. — I’ll be able to explain what I’ve been working on.

But meanwhile, can I talk about my website redesign? I hired my son to move all the content from my old website to this blog. Which brings us to the first rule of Website Redesign:

First Rule of Website Redesign

Nobody cares about your website redesign.

Related Rule

Nobody cares about your new smart phone.

Meanwhile, can I tell you what a wonderful time I had in Chicago recently? The World Science Fiction Convention was there, in my home town*, and I got to see so many good friends and meet new people. But the best part was doing a reading at The Tuesday Funk, a monthly reading series run by Sara Ross Witt and good friend Bill Shunn. Bill composes a poem for each Funk, which on the night I participated was this EPICALLY PROFANE EPIC POEM “Grand Motherfucker”. Please listen.

I also got to share the stage with pals Adam Rakunas (who read this excerpt from “The Right People” one of my all-time favorite stories), and Rae Carson (who read this excerpt from an upcoming book which I know will sell gazillions of copies — she’s great).

And here’s what I read, a short story called “Persistence.”