Saturday, August 30, 2008

Revision Woes

So now I know why all my writer friends say they hate revising.

I used to love revising because that was all I would ever do. Now and then I'd write a few pages, but most of the time I would read through what I already had written and adjust it here and there. My husband always said I should quit doing that because I tended to edit all the life out of anything I wrote, but I enjoyed it---so there. Even if it did take me seven years to finish a novel that way.

Now I am trying a new method. Write it all, and then revise. On Friday I spent HOURS revising my first chapter, and I HATED it---the revising AND the revised first chapter. It got two pages longer and made less sense than it had before. So today I started fresh with the original chapter and tried to change AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE. It still took me an hour to get through the first five pages. At this rate it will take me twice as long to revise as it took to do the first draft.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Clone Wars

With a whole intra-galactic war going on, you would think they could have found something more interesting for Anakin Skywalker to do than rescue a baby slug.

Oh well, maybe that's the real reason he turned to evil. Being a Jedi was beginning to look like a dead end job.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Earthcrosser Update

I read my book through on Monday. I meant to take my time but I simply consumed it in three hours. I also meant to read it and just enjoy it the first time, but instead I had a pen in my hand and scribbled quick notes in the margins everywhere.

Now I'm not sure what to do next. I have never faced an entire first draft of a novel before. In the past I would always revise the earlier chapters multiple times before going on. I am trying to decide whether to mark up the whole book and then revise, or to mark up one chapter, revise it, and then mark up the next chapter.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Good News

Cesium-137, the longest lived by-product of a nuclear explosion, has a half-life of 30 years.

I used to think that meant that for 30 years after a nuclear bomb exploded, everything downwind would be glowing. After a massive nuclear attack, we could count on living underground for at least three decades if we wanted to survive.

Of course the anti-nuke people want you to think that. The truth is not so grim. In fact, even at ground zero, thirty days is enough for all of the most hazardous radioactive isotopes to decay. The ones that are left, well, they don't decay very fast and so they don't radiate as much and are not as dangerous. Get it? So what if you eat a tomato dusted with remote traces of uranium. With a fifty percent chance of it decaying sometime in the next fourteen billion years, what's the chance it will decay in your stomach?

I read an article today that studied the effects from the Chernobyl accident on produce grown in Austria. The plants in Austria picked up radioactive isotopes from the soil from Chernobyl fallout and so were slightly more radioactive than normal. If you ate vegetables grown downwind from Chernobyl in the first year after the accident you got three times the dose you would get if you avoided eating them for one year and then ate them for the next fifty. After the first year, the radiation drops off so rapidly that it takes fifty years to accumulate one third of the dose from that first year.

Got your year's supply?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Draft One Finished!

Nine weeks and three days after I sat down to write the first chapter, Earthcrosser is drafted! I expect its 49,378 word count to grow a bit in the revision process since I need to add little things like descriptive details and transition sentences, things I can't bother with when I'm in the heat of the action.

I can't say that this first draft is very good. It needs a lot of work. If you were to read it now you would find the setting shifts around in impossible ways. Characters vanish over chapter breaks. Things that happened over night turn out to have taken three days instead. The asteroid's closest approach gets pushed back a week (dang, if the author could do that, then what's the problem?).

But who cares? Everything can be fixed! My teacher at the workshop said that any manuscript can be made publishable. It is only a matter of how much work it will take to do so.

Oh, and do you like my sample book cover? I shot that photo myself from the bottom of a Titan II missile silo. Tee hee.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thank-you Titan II

"This is our missile combat crew commander," the tour guide pointed to my eleven-year-old son, "and this is our deputy missile combat crew commander." the tour guide grinned and put his hand on the shoulder of my tow-headed, buck-toothed eight-year-old son, "He looks about the right age for an enlisted man."

We all laughed. The tour guide stepped back and raised his hands like an orchestra conductor, "Now when I count three, both of you turn those keys and hold them while I count five. Ready?"

My sons both nodded their heads.

"One, two, three." My sons turned their keys and then waited until the count of five was up. The keys were in different control panels, too far away for one man to reach both, and they had to be turned at exactly the same time or the missile would not launch. It was one of many fail-safes in the Titan program, a way to make sure no one man could make the decision to launch a nuclear missile.

"One, two, three, four, five. Did you do it?" The tour guide peeked over the control panel, then pointed when the light came on. "You did it. Now you just watch those lights."

The lights on the control panel lit, inexorably, one after the other. When the third one came on, an ear-splitting alarm bell made us all jump. The tour guide quickly shut it off. Another light, and then a horrible buzzing noise. The missile had lifted off, headed towards a target that no one on the crew knew anything about.

"Now after the launch," the tour guide said once he had turned off the buzzing noise, "We were 'sposed to wait down here for further orders. We weren't exactly sure who those orders were 'sposed to come from," he raised his eyebrows, gave us a mischievous glance and pointed towards the ceiling, "Because if this missile had to be launched we knew that meant everyone up there wasn't going to be in very good shape."

We all laughed again, then headed upstairs to look at the cramped crew quarters. A small room with bunks, a kitchen, and a shower which the tour guide said, "No one ever used."
"Maybe on your crew." one of the tourists jabbed.
"No one ever used it because no one wanted to clean it." the tour guide shot back merrily.

As I walked down the cable-way to the missile silo itself an immense feeling of gratitude came over me. I grew up in the shadow of the cold war. When I was the age of my eight-year-old son, these missile silos were still in full operation, ready any time day or night to deliver our end of mutually assured destruction. But we never had to use them. Humanity won the cold war. Sanity prevailed.

"Thank you for the tour," I said to our tour guide when it was all over. He was a former missile combat crew commander himself. "I was just glad I could bring my children here and show it to them as a museum."

The tour guide laughed. I could tell he knew exactly what I meant. "Its good that it's a museum," he agreed. He was so kind and funny. I wondered if the missiles had been launched, would the Soviets have any idea of what sort of man had been asked to turn the key? What sort of men and women were in the Soviet missile silos? Were they cheerful and friendly too?

"We never had to use it, and its thanks to you," I told him.

"Well, I hope not," he looked down. I hoped I hadn't embarrassed him, but that's the way I felt. The courage and the readiness of those missile crews made it possible for me to be showing my children their weapon as a museum piece. It was a weapon so good that we never had to use it.

If those missiles had been launched, none of us would be in very good shape.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Research Trip!

Good-bye blog! CUL! I'm off on a research trip! Yes, close on the heels of my first writer's conference and my first meeting with an editor, I am taking my first official research trip! We are going to the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson, Arizona for a special tour on Saturday morning. I'm feeling a little sorry for the tour guide already. He'd better know his stuff because I've got A LOT of questions.

A lot of the action in my book takes place inside the control center of a missile silo based on the Titan II design. I've already written most of the scenes using my internet and library research, but an actual visit will allow me to put on the finishing touches that will breathe life into the prose. And help me get the choreography straight. And also give me some really great ideas I would never think of just sitting at my desk with a book in my lap. I AM SO EXCITED!

Monday, August 11, 2008

I Have Boys

When I cleaned out my pockets this evening I found a tape measure I'd taken from my nine year old when he was trying to measure the blades of his ceiling fan from his top bunk bed after lights out, and a pocketknife belonging to my eleven-year-old that would have gone through the wash for the third time if his pants hadn't made a loud clunk when I dropped them into the bottom of the washing machine.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Even though I didn't do any writing today, I did get a lot of research done. I looked up EMP weapons, then spent a lively hour and a half arguing with my husband over whether I could trust the congressional reports on the subject. We found out that e-bombs are nuclear bombs designed to create a huge electrical surge in the atmosphere. They would send metal bars sparking and fry all transistors, transformers, and computer chips in sight. Imagine cooking a fork, some aluminum foil, and your cell phone in the microwave oven on HIGH. Now imagine that going on EVERYWHERE. The congressional report said that one or two big Russian e-bombs could knock out pretty much everything electronic in the United States. My husband felt sure they'd need four or five at least. No problem. They have a few thousand.

At any rate, we agreed that the first thing to go in an e-bomb attack would be the internet. It is the most fragile, vulnerable part of the infrastructure.

"Dang," I said, "No more blog! It would be completely wiped out! I should be making hard copies of my blog entries."

My husband laughed, "In case of nuclear war, you're really going to want your blog."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fashion Statement

When I was in high school I wouldn't be caught dead in bell bottoms, unless it was, like, 70's day and we were supposed to look freaky weird.

They must have been back in style for a while because I found a pair on clearance at Wal-Mart. Granted I didn't know what they were until I got them home and tried them on. Oh well, I thought, those tacky things go right into the charity box.

But instead I hung them up in my closet and one day when the laundry was overdue I had nothing else to wear. I put them on and hoped no one would notice.

They were surprisingly comfortable in the Las Vegas heat. I got some nice air circulation around my calves, almost like wearing capri pants. Now I wear them now and then, so long as I'm not going anywhere that I care very much what people think of me.

And let me tell you what was really freaky weird. I went to a musical revue a few months ago and they had an 80's segment. Staring at those costumes, I realized- I used to wear stuff like that! My friends used to wear stuff like that! I've still got my cowgirl skirt in my closet, even though it is too small for me now - like my daughter is going to want to be caught dead in it!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Half-Way There!

Sometime around midnight last night I wrote the 25,000th word of Earthcrosser. That means I'm about half-way done with my first draft! If all goes well, I'll be needing test readers in the month of September.

One thing I love about writing science fiction is that I don't have to make everything up. The real world is full of cool stuff I can use. Take, for example, the exciting discovery I made during today's early morning writing session. The characters were hiking around outside after sunset, and I wanted to know what the sky would look like on June 27, 2087. So I went to the Sky View Cafe.

I typed in the seventy-nine years in the future date and discovered that Mars and Jupiter will be in conjunction, passing spectacularly close to each other just two nights later. I never would have thought of that on my own, but it is perfect! It illustrates some astronomy concepts which happen to be important to the plot, it might be symbolic (we writers love that kind of thing), and it provides a nice concrete detail about the night sky which I can bask in for a descriptive sentence or two.