July 17, 2015
Could it be I accomplished a ton of stuff this week because I didn’t travel last weekend? Am I just going to have to resign myself to the fact that traveling pretty much shoots down the entire week after I get home? Or did that just happen this one time? Or did I just feel like I accomplished more because I’m in a better mood?
I may be over thinking this. But I did have a good productive week which felt nice.
I love my to-do lists, so you can imagine my consternation when I stumbled upon an article that said the most brilliant genius type people in the world don’t use to-do lists. They use schedules, and instead of simply making lists they actually plot out what they’re doing with every minute of every day and that’s how they accomplish things.
The problem with this sort of article of course is how it implies that if you don’t do things this exact way, you’ll never be successful. Meh.
This article (which of course I can’t find now) insisted that you can’t prioritize to-do lists the way you can prioritize schedules, and that by actually planning your day out to the minute, blocking out chunks of time for each task, you’ll accomplish more.
I decided that would drive me bonkers. As open-ended as my days are, it would be really easy just to blow off entire schedules like that. And that would make me feel so defeated and awful about myself. . .
Because you see, I can prioritize my to-do lists. I have a master list, and at the end of each day I make up the list for the next day. That list goes on a little square post-it note. I can’t overschedule. And it’s very satisfying to actually cross off everything on the post-it note and throw it away. If I ever find myself looking for something to do, I refer to the master list. I’m always doing something, and my schedule can’t get entirely blown up by the unexpected.
One size does not fit all with this sort of thing. What works for you all? Precise scheduling, a to-do list, or some combination of both?
July 10, 2015
Just a quick note. It’s been a wibbly wobbly week, sorting through the mess on my desk, contemplating the long-term to-do list, and looking forward to a few weeks at home with no travel. Bliss! I hadn’t thought I was traveling that much, then I realized I’ve been home one weekend out of the last seven. Yikes! I may work at home, but I still like those free weekends to remind me to kick back and relax a little bit.
I updated my appearances page! (The info can also be found on the link on the right-hand menu.) My next thing will be on August 5th at the Tattered Cover on Colfax in Denver — we’re having a release party for Kitty Saves the World. Yay!
Here’s the rest of my current scheduled appearances. Not too many, but what there are should be GREAT! And yes, I’m going to be bringing some costumes to DragonCon! Will I see you there?
August 5: We’ll be having a big party celebrating the release of KITTY SAVES THE WORLD at the Tattered Cover on Colfax. More info about times and such when I have it!
August 28-30: Bubonicon in Albuquerque.
September 4-7: DragonCon! This is the year! I’ll see you there!
September 27 or 28: Fall for the Book Festival in Fairfax, VA. Not sure which day I’m appearing yet but I’ll let you know.
October 23-25: MileHi Con in Denver.
And in 2016:
May 6- 8: Creative Ink Festival in Vancouver BC.
July 8, 2015
My latest story “Crazy Rhythm” is now up on Lightspeed! (It’s also crossposted on io9! I’m taking over!!!) This is my WWI tank in silent-era Hollywood story. Because I like smooshing things together that don’t normally go together. Fun things happen.
Here are a couple of videos that will add a bit of background info:
Here are the Hines Brothers performing the song where I got the title from in the movie The Cotton Club. (The movie’s okay, but all of the musical numbers in it are fantastic.) Anyway, this song was one of the first bits of 1920’s music I ever heard and I love just about every version of it.
And this one:
This is some pretty good period footage of the Mark V tank. It looks so rudimentary and primitive compared to modern tanks. But I keep imagining myself as a soldier in the trenches seeing one of these for the first time — or a whole line of them, creeping toward my position. And it’s pretty terrifying. It’s a strange and interesting machine.
July 3, 2015
I’ve been doing something kind of different lately. Different for me, anyway. I’ve been looking at some of my old writing — and fixing it. And it’s been kind of mind blowing, some of this stuff I put in the trunk because it never sold — I know how to fix it now. I have this novella I wrote 10 or 12 years ago. It never sold, but I’ve been working it over to turn it into a novel proposal. It’s actually nice, because I’m so clearly a much better writer now. Clearly. I’ve got the old draft sitting on my desk, and while I’m using it as a guide, I’m pretty much rewriting it as I type scenes into a new file.
Because I’m such a big advocate of revision, I thought I’d show you what that looks like.
The old version, from 10+ years ago:
Just two weeks ago, I was safe in my ivory tower. Assistant Professor of comparative literature, with nothing to worry about but when I had to be at my office for office hours. Well, publishing and getting tenure, but those were too big to worry about right now.
Technically, I didn’t really have to be at my office for office hours, since students never actually came to my office, not like they did in the old days. But they did call with all the usual questions and I had to be near my screen to answer them.
“Professor Cox?” said one of my Intro to Mythology students. I touched the screen to open a chat window and saw the face of a nineteen year old’s desperation looking back at me.
“I know I was supposed to turn in my paper yesterday, and I know I didn’t, but I was really hoping I could get an extension, just an extra day or two–”
I had a script for this. “You got the syllabus along with everyone else, you know my policy–no extensions.”
The anguish in the young man’s twisted face showed the pain of someone who’d never had to worry about anything worse than a late paper. “But Professor Cox, I really need this grade. . .”
I let him go on for a minute. It was part of the script. Finally, I let out a heavy sigh. “All right. Just this once. But I need it by the weekend and it had better be good.”
Just like that, he became the happiest person in the world. “Thank you, thank you so much.“
And the new version (still rough, I haven’t really proofread):
I really shouldn’t have been here. But here I was. I hadn’t decided yet if I was sorry. Give me a couple of days.
Just a week ago, I was safe in my ivory tower, nothing to worry about but camping in my office for office hours. Well, publishing and getting tenure, department politics, course loads. But those were too big to really worry about.
Not that students actually visited office hours anymore. It was all emails and messaging.
“PROF COX PLS NEED 2 MOR DAYS FOR ESSAY HELPP!!!!111!!!!!!”
I emailed back a file of the syllabus–that they’d gotten at the start of the term along with everyone else–with the due date highlighted. If that made me a terrible professor, so be it.
If any of them ever actually showed up in person, I would give them an extension.
In a word, the second version has more personality than the first. It’s punchier, with less exposition, it’s less mechanical. The exchange with the student? That’s basically irrelevant to the story and is mostly there for contrast, to show Addie’s normal life. I reduced from 10 paragraphs to 5, and it conveys all the same information, and it’s funnier now. At least I think it is.
The new section has voice. That’s what I was missing in my writing 10+ year ago.
June 24, 2015
May 22, 2015
Just for fun, I was recently thinking about historical figures I’ve written about. (Not just mentioned or talked about — had to have lines of dialog.)
- Babylonian Emperor Darius (“The Book of Daniel”)
- Henry VIII, Arthur Tudor, Catherine of Aragon (“A Princess of Spain”)
- Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Jane Grey (“The Haunting of Princess Elizabeth”)
- Shakespeare (“Draw Thy Breath in Pain”)
- Edward Alleyn (Kitty Steals the Show)
- Emily Dickinson (“In Time”)
- Queen Victoria, Princess Alexandra, George V, Princess Victoria, Maud of Wales, Carl of Denmark (the whole damn family!) (All the Harry and Marlowe stories)
- H.G. Wells (Harry and Marlowe again)
- Rose O’Neill (“Goodness and Kindness”)
- Joseph Kittinger (who is still alive!) (“This is the Highest Step in the World”)
- Janis Joplin (“Just Another Word”)
I think there may be a few I’m missing. Like, all the pirates in Steel and probably a couple of walk-on characters in Discord’s Apple.
Some of these characters I’ve done a ton of research on. I’ve read multiple books about the Tudors. I did a ton of research on Janis Joplin for one single short story. Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpie doll, has an autobiography that I read. I took a whole seminar in grad school on Emily Dickinson and felt very confident writing about her — or rather my interpretation of her.
On the other hand, I did zero research on H.G. Wells and Darius, just using general knowledge and context to portray them, and mostly making them do what I needed for the story.
I probably worried the most about Janis Joplin — hence all the research — because she’s so iconic, it was important to at least try to portray her accurately. I definitely worried about using Kittinger as a character, because he’s still alive, and the story was so fantastical and symbolic I didn’t really make an effort to portray him as he really is. I wasn’t writing about him, really, but about the situation. Where I did do the research was in reading multiple accounts of his Excelsior jumps, so I could at least get the details right.
I have to admit though, having used Kittinger to inspire a character, I had a really good time a couple years ago watching him (via livestream) as capcom for Felix Baumgartner’s high-altitude jump that finally broke the record after 50 years. He had exactly the wry, calm, old-school test pilot demeanor I expected him to have.
May 8, 2015
I am having One Of Those Weeks. Reverse 911 calls, bank freezing the credit card, broken printer, a week of rain, not going to ride TinyHorse because I cannot face the rain, predictions of snow for the weekend, some really annoying paperwork. The couple of unexpected checks I got (the “Hey, this’ll buy a bag of groceries!” kind of checks for short stories written years ago) couldn’t even cheer me up.
But mostly I think it’s because I’m working on this screenplay and it’s kicking my ass. I have a self-imposed deadline on this one and I really want to get it finished, because I think it’s going to be pretty good. My problem: I write short. I know I write short. I zoom through plots. Not a single one of my published novels is longer than 100,000 words. I’ve never had to cut a novel down to size. Now, on a novel, short or long doesn’t really matter as long as it’s in the ballpark. Someone picking up a 70,000 word novel or an 85,000 word novel is not going to be able to tell the difference. There’s a lot of wiggle room.
A feature length film screenplay has to be at least 90 pages. You calculate about a minute of film time per page. This is strict industry standard. But I write short, and I’m coming up short.
So, what to do? Well, a B plot would help. Looking at every single scene and seeing what opportunities for character development I might be missing. Adding to the story without padding it out, making it drag.
This is really brain-cramping work. But I can tell the thing’s going to be better for it — a more developed story, richer characters, etc. I know intellectually this is really good for me as a writer — this is actually something I’ve been trying to do on the last couple of books, to go through every scene and look for missed opportunities, look to flesh it all out more than I have.
But holy crap I’m tired and cranky about it.
(I’m not going to talk about what the screenplay’s about until it’s finished, and until I feel like I won’t jinx it by talking about it. I don’t know when that’ll be. I’m sorry.)