Sunday, March 30, 2008

Long Term Project

As I sat out in the sun digging still more Bermuda Grass from my pool landscaping, I had a crazy idea to add to the list of things I want to do in my life. This one is something that will take significant preparation, and is something I probably won't be able to start in earnest until the kids move out of the house and I get ample free time. Hmph, may have to wait until retirement. I figure I have around 40 years before I get too old to complete this.

Over the course of my rediscovery of Mike Oldfield and Pink Floyd (See March 16th blog entry), I got to thinking how much fun it can be to put together a "band" made up of me, me, me, me, me, and me. Obviously, I can only play one instrument at a time, so the magic will be done by mixing, like Oldfield did for Tubular Bells. The difference here is that today, you can legitimately do this in your home, thanks to digital technology.

The project goal will be to record my interpretation of Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine, probably the best of Syd Barret's compositions. The lyrics aren't much more than blather (even if I like them), but the instrumental portion I think lends itself to considerable interpretation. I'm not worried about rights because this is entirely for my own enjoyment, not for any kind of profit.

There needs to be considerable prep for this project. I don't play many instruments, and that's the major handicap. I play clarinet, which I'm told lends itself to easily learning saxophone, so I'm not completely inept. I've also done some composing, so music theory isn't a big deal. I will need to learn some essential instruments to pull this off. Guitar (and by extension bass), piano (read synth), and drums.

I expect by far the most difficult of these will be guitar. I have one and while it's not all that hard an instrument to play in concept, it's not necessarily all that easy to execute well. I will probably take lessons once my life settles into something less insane.

I don't think what I have in mind for keyboard instruments will be particularly difficult, so I think I can work out what I need on the fly. Drums will be challenging, and judging on my daughter's progress, I'll need at least 6 months of lessons to pull it off. Other percussion instruments don't worry me.

The last aspect is the vocals. Not sure how well that will sound with my voice. Time will tell. If my voice sounds crappy when I'm 60, I may try to do the lyrics with a talk box.

We'll see if I ever manage to pull this off. It takes a back seat to my writing, of course, and there's no way I can do it at this stage of my life. I don't really even have time to learn guitar right now. Things change. One day the time will be there. I just wanted to document the project here and now so there are other people in the world that expect me to do this eventuallty.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

ET Phone Home

Sometimes you just have to wonder about kids. Last autumn, my daughter sent her cell phone through the washing machine. Last night, she went out to the movies and lost her replacement phone.

Allowing a cell phone to the kids is getting to be an expensive proposition. Fortunately, we got a call about 8:00 this evening. Her friend found it in her mother's car. We got lucky with this one.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Beeline Landslide

Sometimes it takes a small disaster to recognize just how isolated Arizona cities really are. A recent landslide closed state route 87 (aka the Beeline Highway) between metro Phoenix and Payson. In order to get to Payson from Phoenix, you had to take and alternate route that added a good hour to the trip.

Businesses in the small towns along the route suffered almost complete shutdown without the traffic from Phoenix.

Payson is up on the Mogollan Rim, at nearly 5000 feet. To compare, Scottsdale is 1250 feet, and Phoenix is 1100 feet. Flagstaff is at 7000 feet. Arizona doesn't have a huge number of roads that go up the hill. It isn't like living back east. Once you get out of the big city, the little towns are very scattered with a lot of beautiful but difficult terrain in between.

Payson depends on Phoenix for business. This is especially true in the summer when we desert rats need a way to get out of the 115-degree heat. Believe me, 95 degrees is downright chilly by comparison.

You can see the same thing traveling west toward San Diego (our other summer escape a mere 6-hour drive). There's essentially nothing but saguaro cacti between Gila Bend and Yuma. Arizona is so dependent upon imports that the loss of one road cripples a mid-sized town.

Good news is they have one lane open now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Momentum is so hard to keep. After a week of making good progress with writing every day, along comes an evening like this one. I get the computer turned on and I have to hand it over to my daughter for an online math test. After that, it's help with homework for the other two kids. Then, I had to respond to one of my infrequent invitations to the "Saturday Soundoff" in the local paper. Finally, I'm sitting with my computer and it's already after 10:00PM. Time to start writing. So I've got about 80 new words into the novel so far today. I'm not done, but this won't be a 1000-word night. 10:00 is pretty late to start when you have to get up at 5:00.

Part of the problem is that I'm still struggling with the story line. I burned through the last novel so fast I forgot how much of a struggle writing can be. David Gerrold says writing never gets easier, it's just hard in different ways. I'm only starting to appreciate that statement.

I think the reason that is true is writers tend to push their own envelope. For a writer to develop, it's a necessity. There are a lot of writers who are happy selling in the semi-pros, and do very well in those markets. I'm not one of them. I'm not satisfied with that. Despite 21 fiction sales, I'm still a beginner in many ways, and I have to push my skills to the edge to grow as a writer.

The novel I'm struggling with is something I want to get right, and I have a certain look and feel I'm trying for. It's the foundation for an entire series of related novels and what I do today affects what I will do a decade from now. Entire societies and cultures are difficult. Keeping an alien point of view is difficult, particularly when you don't really know the aliens very well yet.

That was the difference with Neanderthal Swan Song, I knew the characters and the story so well that it was like relating something I actually witnessed. Rigel Kentaurus is more like trying to repair a cassette tape after thirty feet of tape has been eaten by the capstain. You get a physics-defying twist that has no other side to twist it back, and the tape is all crumpled through the good part of the song. Couple that with all the demands on my time and energy and I have every excuse in the book to quit. Not me. Back to the novel.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Back on the novel

Now that I have a complete draft of the collaboration story in Ruth Nestvold's hands, I'm turning back to the novel that should be done already. I've really struggled with this thing. This novel, Rigel Kentaurus, is completely different from Neanderthal Swan Song.

I've been spinning my wheels on the beginning, trying to find my characters and the details on the story line. This novel has two distinct points of view in what writer Rob Hall calls a Y-shaped story. The two story lines start in geographically different locations and eventually merge.

Interestingly, the alien part of the story is coming together fairly well, but the human half is giving me fits. It's such a problem that for the first time, I've split the novel up and I'm working only on the alien story line right now.

It's difficult, but I am making slow but steady progress. I hope to be finished with this project by Octoer 2008.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Last fall (or was it last summer?), Codex Writers Group held a captive collaboration contest. I was thrilled to learn I was paired with Ruth Nestvold, a writer who has collaborated with several writers, including Jay Lake.

We completed about 4500 words before we both got pulled off the project in favor of other activities. Well, in order to break my 6-month writing malaise, I started working on it again. Tuesday, when my car was in the shop, I pounded out about 1000 words. Since then, I added another 3500 words, and an attempt at an ending. The whole manuscript currently stands at around 9500 words.

I sent the draft to Ruth about an hour ago. She has yet to see around half the story, and I'm sure it will look considerably different when it comes back. The important thing is that we have a full story. Now, we just need to hammer it into shape. I expect it will grow as we go, but that's okay.

Having a full draft is a victory. I'm hopeful we'll have it ready to sell in a couple months.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Eggs

For all I complain about the heat, it sure beats a foot of snow on the ground. I got my first sunburn of the year this afternoon during my continuing battle against rogue bermuda grass.

This stuff is nasty. It grows where you don't want it and doesn't grow where you do. I have patches of rogue bermuda grass all over.

You have to dig two to three inches into hard desert soil to extract the roots. Here is my work in progress.

After a section is completed, it looks a lot better. This area took about four hours.

Trouble is, you have to go back in about two weeks and pull out anything you missed or the grass will take over again.

We had our annual Easter Egg Hunt this morning. Every year we use a different part of the yard. Until this year, we hadn't used this part of the yard, which is in the back yard just west of the house between the pool and the wash.

If you have a good high-resolution and large monitor, there is one pink egg in plain view.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Bootcamp Classmate Makes Good

Mary Robinette Kowal was a classmate of mine at the 2005 Orson Scott Card Literary Boot Camp. She's had a pretty charmed literary life since then, I think the first of our class to qualify for full SFWA membership (though Brad Beaulieu might have been there first).

She is definitely the first of us to be listed on the Nebula ballot, and is now on the ballot for the Campbell Award for best new writer. She has definitely found an audience with her work, which is generally well thought-out and edgy.

Please go pay her web site a visit and wish her the best of luck.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Even more about Story Lengths

Curiosity got the better of me, so I went and took the trouble to plot stories against first submission date. I haven't been recording the actual date written, so this is the closest thing I have. Several of the pre-bootcamp stories sat on my hard drive for several months before I submitted them, all of those were flash.

I still don't see any real pattern, maybe because I write the story in my head first, and it just is as long as it is. I'm not sure what all this proves, but here it is.

More on Story Lengths

Referring to the chart in the previous post, you might notice some flat spots around 2000, 4000, etc. I don't think this is any kind of rhythm as we discussed on Codex. I believe those flat spots are an artifact of word count restrictions from markets.

For example, if I write a 4100-word story and I want to sell it to a market that accepts only to 4000 words, I may surgically remove 100 words to qualify for that market.

It has been suggested (by Gray Rinehart I believe) that I look at this as a time sequence and pareto. I think most people can do the pareto in their head. The time sequence would be interesting but difficult due to the way I document my inventory. The unsold material is stored in roughly the order written, but anything that sold is stored in the order sold on a separate page in the spreadsheet. I'm just not certain it's worth the trouble. My work is tending longer with experience, but my most recent story is also the shortest.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Story Lengths

In Codex writers group, we are having a discussion on rhythm, in other words, looking for a typical word count on short fiction. I didn't really remember noticing any trends, so I opened up my spreadsheet and made a plot. Seems I don't have any preferred length, other than novelettes are rare.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Cats" review

I'm not quite sure what to make of this review of my story "Cats" that appeared in the February issue of The Written Word.

Rick Novy’s very short tale of feline plans for insurrection and world domination exhibits the complexity of flash fiction. I had to read “Cats” three times to figure it out, since the detail was so sparse.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Discovery and Rediscovery

One of the benefits of getting older is that you have plenty of interests that wax and wane, only to emerge again after many years. That's rediscovery. I often experience rediscovery with music.

Back in the mid 1980s, I had a college roommate who was into New Age jazz. In those days, New Age was a fairly new category. Some of the music wasn't all that new, but those older works fit nicely into the category. In that category, which I haven't thought about in ages, my old roommate introduced me to artists like Kitaro (who we mispronounced at the time to rhyme with guitaro), Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Hiroshima, Philip Glass, and Mike Oldfield. Purists might disagree with placing some of these into New Age, but that's really not significant.

Recently, I rediscovered Mike Oldfield's classic album, Tubular Bells. For those unfamiliar with this classic, most likely you have heard the first part, only you think of it as being from the soundtrack of "The Exorsist."

I love the piece, which fills the entire album, split into two parts only because we still pressed music onto vinyl in 1972. Oldfield played more than 20 instruments on this piece pioneering the technique of mixing so common today. On side two, he debuts what he calls Piltdown Man, where he imitates a caveman voice.

It isn't lost on me that the full 47-odd minutes of Tubular Bells isn't for everyone, though chances are pretty good that everyone will find a portion they like. Still, it's fairly eclectic and either you get it or you don't. If you get it, you can listen to it over and over. If you don't get it, you probably won't listen a second time.

So I bought a copy of Tubular Bells on CD last friday, and finally I get to hear the entire piece without stopping to turn over the tape or album.

In addition to that, this weekend I discovered a new Pink Floyd concert DVD called Pulse. This is probably my new favorite in my collection, overtaking the Eagles Farewell I Tour. Both are excellent concerts, both spill over onto a second CD. The Eagles concert is a relaxing experience that can be enjoyed when you're tired and simply want to listen to something catchy. The Pink Floyd concert is more of an immersion experience. The first disk has a plenty of material I haven't heard because I stopped paying attention to Pink Floyd after Roger Waters left the group. While I like Waters work, frankly, he isn't missed in the concert.

The second disk is Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, with a few songs from other albums tacked on at the end. I never get tired of that album, but this version includes just enough live music nuances to keep it interesting. Unless you have seen a concert DVD already, buying one is basically a crapshoot. It's nice to roll a 7 from time to time.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

All-State Band

The Arizona elementary and junior high all-state band festival finished up a couple of hours ago. My daughter, Audrey, qualified for the second year in a row. Once again, they held it in Gilbert at Higley High School. It has to be a good 40 miles from the house. Last year, they bussed the elementary kids in the morning. This year, I had to drive--twice. With construction on Loop 101, they reduced the southbound side to one lane. That added some time to the commute.

This is the first year they held an all-state event for the seventh-graders, but they had the sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders all on the same day with a joint concert.

Obviously, the all-state bands sound better than the average single-school band. the sixth-graders had a bit of trouble keeping together (they got as much a 4 measures apart at one point). Last year's sixth-grade band sounded a little better.

Both the seventh and eighth grade bands sounded great. The venue is nice, even if very far for most of the state's population. We ordered the CD of the performance, in part because we don't know of we'll go to another all-state band festival. Practice waxes and wanes with the kids' whims. Flute is rarely practiced. Trumpet not at all. Drums are practiced, but we are still too new at that instrument to be good enough yet.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

D.G.K. Goldberg Award

I received this email today:

Allow me to congratulate you on your earning the D.G.K. GOLDBERG AWARD for your story "Cosmology," at Your story was chosen by readers' vote as the best horror story of 2007. The choice was a well-deserved one in my opinion, as your story is indeed outstanding.
As an emblem of this honor conferred upon you. you are hereby awarded the GOLDBERG medal, to display on your website if you choose to do so, as evidence of the honor you have earned for your wonderful story, "Cosmology."
Again, congratulations, Mr. Novy, and best wishes for your continued success.
-- Jean Goldstrom
Anotherealm Editor Emeritus

It comes as something of a surprise because I don't really consider this a horror story, but maybe it is.

The 2007 results haven't been posted yet, but you can see past winners here. There is a link on that page that leads to a little discussion of D.G.K. Goldberg.

I guess I'm now offically an award-winning writer.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Favre and Gygax

Today, Brett Favre finally announced his retirement. This time, I think it's real. He has nothing left to prove. 13-3 at his age is a great accomplishment. Say what you want about his play against New York in the NFC championship game, New York had the Green Bay screen pass play figured out. That screen pass play had been working all season, and the Giants figured out how to stop it. It takes nothing away from what Favre has accomplished over the course of his career. Aaron Rogers will do just fine for the Pack.

The other loss today is of a bit more esoteric nature. Gary Gygax, the inventor of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away today at age 69. I met Gary on a couple of occasions. Nice guy. He was not necessarily the wisest of men. He let TSR get away from him. He also smoked a lot. Said so right in one of the hard covered AD&D manuals.

It seems a bit strange to post write Favre and Gygax in the same post, but what the heck.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Surprise in the Mail

I came home to a surprise today. Writers of the Future sent me a certificate for one of my Honorable Mention finishes. Not sure which quarter it was for. The last HM finish I know about is from Q307. I inquired, so I'll let you know when I find out.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


I posted the information about Alien Skin (see below) to Codex Writers Group, and got a surprising number of sympathetic responses. Several people said they would no longer consider submitting there. Quite honestly, had I known about this public shame board, I probably wouldn't have submitted there in the first place.

There is another webzine that I come across from time to time while looking for a market for my older stories. This market, the name of which escapes me at the moment, actually publically rips their rejected stories apart on a public board. That they keep the author anonymous doesn't make it okay. I've never submitted to this market.

In any case, the Codex disucssion drifted to the controversial Nick Mamatas at Clarkesworld Magazine. He has a reputation for, er, swinging a knife with people inside what the boy scouts call the blood circle (within arms length). Now, I have had work rejected by Mamatas, and occasionally he will express an uninformed opinion. Case in point, I used the phrase 'engineering school' in a story and he ridiculed the phrase. From his response, I know without a doubt that Mamatas is not an engineer. If he were, he would know that some engineers do refer to their university experience as 'engineering school.' I know because I R 1.

To be fair, I have found that most of his comments are insightful and Mamatas is a very good critic. Orson Scott Card is better, though.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Lost Respect

When you only get to the computer after a 10-12 hour work day, and help with kids' homework and caring for a geriatric person, you make mistakes. a couple of months ago I submitted a story to Alien Skin Magazine, where my work has already appeared twice. One of those appearances was an editors choice story. On this particuar occasion, I was tired and misread the guidelines, transposing the first and second digit of the word count limit from 3500 to 5300 words.

For a simple error, I get listed, without warning, here. To be perfectly frank, it pisses me off. I have a list of publications to which I refuse to submit, but I don't advertise that list to the world. I find the page at the other end of the above link to be unprofessional, in poor taste, and just plain petty.

Despite very little new material produced in the past six months, I still have 42 unpublished stories in the marketplace. I track them in a spreadsheet by story and by market when I submit. I update the spreadsheet on the fly, but guess what? Mistakes do happen when you try to keep that much inventory in the market.

Petty can go both ways. You won't again see anything of mine appear in Alien Skin.