Public Service Announcement

We interrupt your irregularly scheduled blog reading with a business-related announcement.  Related, that is, to my editorial and critique services (see the sidebar link for more info.)

After careful consideration, I’ve decided that as of 15 September I’m going to be slightly raising my basic-rate flat fee to $1500 for a line-edit and critique on a standard-weight novel.  Novellas and doorstops will remain separately negotiable.  And as before, I will also line-edit and critique a short story or the first chapter/first 5000 words of a novel for $100.

My reasons for doing this are twofold.  One is that the increased rate should, I hope, enable me to better strike a balance between the need to keep the household exchequer in a healthy-enough state, and the need to have sufficient time to work on my own contractual writing obligations.  The other is that I’ve done enough research into the going rates for editorial work to satisfy myself that even with the projected increase, my rate remains at the relatively inexpensive end of the scale.

I’m giving this one-month heads-up so that anyone who wants to take advantage of the old rate can do so; those pre-contracted jobs will go into the editing queue ahead of those from people who sign up after September 15.

A Recipe in Lieu of Witty Advice

(Because some days I’m fresh out of wit, and because this recipe is by way of being a traditional welcome-home meal for the daughter whom we picked up at the bus stop yesterday evening after her summer in New York.)

Green Chile Pork Stew

2 to 2 1/2 pounds pork stew meat, or lean pork cut in 1″ cubes
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground sage
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 or 3 medium potatoes, cubed
2 or 3 green chiles (such as Anaheim, or whatever you like), diced,
or 1 can (4oz)
2 cups tomatillo salsa (salsa verde) (about 1 jar)
1 can (15 oz) chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar

(Salsa verde comes in varying degrees of hotness, depending upon the other ingredients in it besides tomatillos.   If the locally available brand is milder than you prefer, you can compensate by adding chopped jalapeños.)

Put flour, cumin, pepper, salt, and sage in a plastic ziploc bag; add pork cubes and shake to coat thoroughly.

Brown the cubes of pork in hot oil in batches; remove when browned and put in your crockpot.

With the heat still on, add the vinegar to the skillet to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape up all the brown bits.  (The vinegar will reduce).

Ad the chopped onions, the chiles, the potatoes, the salsa, the chicken broth, the brown sugar, and the scraped bits from the skillet to the pork already in the crockpot.  Stir and cook, covered, on low for 8 to 12 hours, or on high for 4 to 6 hours.

This goes well with cornbread.  And if there’s any left over — which is by no means a sure thing — it reheats well in the microwave the next day.

Thought for the Day

Advice on writing — if it hopes to be at all honest — really needs to have a sign posted over it in flashing letters of bright red neon:

THIS IS STRICTLY MY PERSONAL OPINION.

IT’S WHAT WORKS FOR ME.

And that definitely goes for anything that may be posted here.

(I will admit that I’m vain enough to think that my personal opinions are generally valid, at least for fairly large subsets of the writing population.  But I’m not so vain as to think that they are, or ought to be, universal.  One size definitely doesn’t fit all, in this business.)

Trouble on the Wind

Or, foreshadowing.  Of which there are two general kinds, which require — of course — different handling.

The first kind of foreshadowing is when you need something bad to happen to your characters unexpectedly — the equivalent of having your protagonist walking down the street without a care in the world, and then dropping a grand piano on his head.  This needs to come as an unforeseen, and probably fatal, surprise to your protagonist; but not to your readers, who have little patience for plummeting pianos.  Either you carefully plant, amid the usual distractions, the fact that the occupant of the fourth-floor-front apartment plays the piano, and hopes to trade in his or her current badly-tuned specimen for a better one someday; or you make it clear from the first pages of the book that your protagonist lives in the sort of film-noir universe where death by random piano is always a possibility.

The second kind of foreshadowing is when something bad is going to happen to one or more of your characters, and you want the reader to be aware that something bad is going to happen, and you want them to be waiting for it — the equivalent, in this case, of putting all your characters under a tornado watch and letting your readers sweat over the question of exactly which one of their fictional friends is going to see the funnel cloud snaking down out of the greenish-grey sky and hear the noise like an enormous freight train going over a bad grade.  For that kind of foreshadowing, you need to start bringing the warning signs into the narrative early, a little bit at a time, and letting the frequency and the intensity build up slowly but steadily until the warning sirens begin to sound.

Because just as a stage whisper isn’t anything like a real whisper, fictional surprise isn’t anything like real surprise; it’s an artificial representation of the real thing.  The real thing, if put unchanged into fiction, is liable to look fake.

It Came from Office Space

“Home office” sounds so . . . respectable.

Maybe for some professions, it is.  And maybe even for some writers.  I don’t know.  But for a lot of us, the home office, if we’re lucky enough to have one, is more like a cave where the books and papers are organized by geologic strata and topic drift, with the desk and chair and attendant writing machinery (computer, typewriter, quill pen and inkwell, whatever) rising above it all like a lighthouse on a rock.

Plus, often, a cat.

That’s if we’re lucky, and have a room to spare.  Jane Austen, famously, wrote her novels in the family parlor, and shoved the papers underneath the blotter whenever anybody came in.  Louisa May Alcott’s fictional alter ego, Jo March, set up her writing desk in the attic.  I thought a lot about both of them during the years when I had my own writing gear set up in our fortunately-large kitchen — not for lack of a spare room for the office, in my case, but in order to have a commanding view of the front door, the latch of which our pre-school offspring had, unnervingly, proved themselves able to open.

Writers through the ages have managed to ply their craft under the most trying conditions imaginable — in hospitals, in prisons, on ships at sea, in grinding poverty or in the diamond-encrusted straitjacket of social expectation — and have undoubtedly cheered themselves by daydreaming of the perfect office they would make for themselves someday, if only.

Sometimes, if they’re lucky, they get to have that perfect office.  And if they’re even luckier, they don’t then sit down in the perfect chair at the perfect desk and take up the perfect pen (or the perfect typewriter, or the perfect computer) . . . only to have their muse demand to be taken back to that cramped walk-in closet with the typewriter set up on a board across two suitcases and the toddler throwing his alphabet blocks out of his playpen and in through the open door.

John Scalzi Gets His Rant On

…in “A Creator’s Note to ‘Gatekeepers'”, a post with which I agree, as they say, times eleventy-one.

(A lot of self-nominated gatekeepers, in my own experience, are stuffy purists of one variety or another–the sort of people who, if they’re cooks, only write recipes for people who live where they can purchase absolutely authentic ingredients, rather than making do with locally available near-equivalents; the sort of people who don’t want anyone to listen to a Bach concerto unless it’s played on authentic Baroque instrument; and so on.  The sort of people, in fact, for whom an experience is spoiled once the wrong sort of people show up and start enjoying it.  It’s a variety of snobbery, and it annoys me greatly.)

Links of Interest

Well, of interest to me, anyhow.

This one doesn’t have anything to do with writing, except in the way that everything, eventually, has to do with writing; it’s about the spread of prehistoric dairying culture as traced through ancient cheesemaking tools, and how that tracks with the development of lactose tolerance in northern and western Europe.

I can’t see hanging an entire story on those bits of knowledge, but it’s the sort of idea that tumbles around in the back of a writer’s head for an extended period of time, accreting other ideas to itself all the while, until it becomes something much bigger and shinier and definitely other.

This post by Greg van Eekhout, on the other hand (while a couple of years old at this point) is very much about writing — specifically, about the vexed question of skin color in cover art, and the work involved in getting it right.  As long as you’re over at Greg’s site, you might as well read this more recent post, as well, in which he takes on the question, “What is a writer of Dutch-Indonesian descent doing playing around with Norse myth?”  (Other than, “A damned fine job, that’s what,” which was my instant reaction, years ago, to reading his short story “Wolves Till the World Goes Down” at the Viable Paradise workshop.)

Tales from the Before Time: Paper

They’ve been promising us the paperless office for more than two decades now, and I’m starting to think that as futuristic promises go, that one is up there with the personal jetpacks and the flying cars.

That being said, while we haven’t yet got a paperless office, we do have (at least in the writing business) a less-paper office.  Most of the science fiction and fantasy short fiction markets these days prefer online submissions — The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is the only major magazine I know of that still requires paper.  (F&SF is still our first try on those occasions when we have a short story to send out, because they’re a good fast rejection.)  As for novels, it’s been over a decade, I think, since we submitted a finished project in paper form.

I have fond memories, though, of papers past.  I remember the narrow-ruled composition paper I used to write my first, dreadful novel in the summer after I graduated from high school.  I’m fairly sure it would have dressed out as a complete, if short novel, given the number of lines per double-sided page and my cramped, illegible handwriting.  It occupied most of my brain space for over three months, and taught me a lot of things, including “always think about where your light is coming from,” and probably kept me sane while I waited to go off and become a college freshman.

I remember the heavy-duty erasable bond paper that I used for my essays and research papers all the way through college and graduate school, and that did duty as well for my occasional failed attempts at selling short fiction.  (I got my first rejection from F&SF back in those days, and for good reason.  The story sucked.)

I remember the flimsy, pale yellow second sheets that I bought by the ream and used for first drafts once I switched from composing in longhand to composing on the keyboard.  The very flimsiness of that paper had a liberating quality:  “You can throw this out if you have to,” it said; “there’s plenty more where it came from.”

I remember the fan-fold paper that ran through our first dot-matrix printer, an Epson MX-80 that was built like a tank and lasted for years.  I remember the bond paper we bought for our letter-quality printer in 10-ream boxes, and how fast we could go through a box-full back when we were printing out 500-page manuscripts in multiple drafts.

These days, we go through a ream every three or four months, maybe.

But paperless?  Not yet.

How Long is a Piece of String?

I finished a short story this evening, just barely making the deadline.

Looked at one way, I started writing it three days ago.

Looked at another way, I’ve been working on it for six months.

It took me most of that time to look at and discard all the possible stories I wasn’t going to write, and to find the right idea and the right angle of approach for the one that I was.  And it took me the better part of a month to find the voice that I wanted to tell it in.

Once I had all of that sorted out, putting the words together was the quick and easy part.

So — how long is a piece of string?

And the answer is:  As long as it needs to be.