Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge is Back in Print

I’m not shy about letting people know that Kelley Eskridge’s debut novel Solitaire is possibly my favorite book I’ve read in the last decade. It was shocking to me that it was her first novel because it was so firm handed that I’d have easily believed it was her dozenth. She had opportunities to soften the blow and let her protagonist off the moral hook and she never did. I was impressed with her courage as an author to never take the easy way out and the book is stronger for it.

I wrote up a review on this very blog in 2002, and now that book is back in print from Small Beer Press. I own the hardcover of the book but I bought the Kindle copy yesterday as well, just to always have it with me. I never reread books and I’m going to reread this one.

Kelley is one of my favorite people in this world and she is one of my favorite writers in this world. I strongly urge anyone with an interest in science fiction or tough minded psychological fiction to pick this book up. It is a tour de force. In fact, I’ll go ahead and offer my money back guarantee – if you buy it and don’t like it, I’ll buy the book from you. I stand behind it that firmly.

You can buy it from Amazon, from Weightless Books in electronic format, from Barnes and Noble or from your local store. However you choose to go out and get it, I suggest that you do it. This is a book that will leave you with a different world view coming out than you went in with. The number of authors who’ve done that to me is vanishingly small: J. G. Ballard, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Kelley. Read the book, you’ll be glad you did.

NaNoWriMo Second Draft Special

My friends Kelley Eskridge and Nicola Griffith are writers who between them have written a significant chunk of my favorite books of the last twenty years. Earlier this year, before I decided to attempt NaNoWriMo and before they formed their agency, I had already reached out to them as first readers to help me with my novel draft. Not only am I a first novelist, but I haven’t written much fiction of any length so I wanted to get some critiques of the general structure of the work. I wasn’t looking for a line edit, but more along the lines of answering the questions “Does this book achieve what it tries to? Does it pay off what it sets up? Does this thing flow like a novel?” My novel has two timelines running in parallel, which Nicola did with three in her novel Slow River and I’d like to know how successfully they think I pull that off. It’s scary stuff for a dilettante writer to attempt and I definitely want a second opinion on it.

Now they they have formed their agency Sterling Editing, they are doing that sort of work for a wider clientele. They have decided to offer a NaNoWriMo special. If you are a participant (have to be able to point to your progress page and results), they’ll offer an evaluation of your book at a deep discount from what that service normally costs. I’ll be taking them up on this in the post NaNoWriMo editing madness of turning my first draft into something that will get published, either by an existing publisher or by me myself. One way or another, this is going out into the world and I want their help tuning it up.

November is all about losing the excuses, getting motivated and putting some words on paper. When you’ve done that and you are looking for taking your NaNoWriMo novel from first to subsequent drafts, I’d suggest looking at Sterling Editing. That’s who will be helping me.

Why I am Doing NaNoWriMo This Year

Punk List for Manzanar Dreams

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I made the decision late in the game that this year, I would be a participant in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I’m publicly kind of a non-joiner, so why did I join in this? When I was in college and my early twenties, it was my goal to be a full-time professional writer. I was a big reader of science fiction, and I could think of nothing better than to spend my days as a writer of it. I did write short stories in that time period, and even had a poem published in the magazine Aboriginal SF. None of my short stories were ever published, as I never submitted any of them to any publications.

In 1991 I started taking notes for a novel idea I had. It was titled Manzanar Dreams and concerned the 1970’s California punk scene, the Japanese internment during World War 2, the spread of corporate radio, mind control and a little good old fashioned homicide. I’ve got character notes, plot outlines and even drawings of the characters that date back 18 years. I’ve never gone a week without thinking about this book in that whole time, but in 18 years there is one telling thing I have failed to do. I haven’t written one word of the actual text of the book.

I had actually emailed my writer friend Kelley Eskridge earlier this year to tell her I was stealth attempting to write the book. Then I shelved it in favor of a different project that seemed timely that equally didn’t happen, with the final result of me doing nothing on anything. I decided to change gears and rather than stealthily attempt the book, I’d publically do it as part of NaNoWriMo. It really is time to either do this thing or admit that I’ll never do it, so here I go.

One of the structural challenges that faced me is that I have three main characters: a hero, a fairly sympathetic villain, and a love interest vertex of the interpersonal triangle. When I have thought about the book for these years, 98% of my energies have gone towards the villain. He’s the character that I personally find compelling, which begged the question – if I cared about him more than the other characters, why should I expect the readers to care about the others? Why isn’t the book solely about him as the anti-hero? I had a breakthrough a few months ago, where a very small change in perspective towards the hero made the themes of the book more tangible and also gave me a hook into why I should care about him just as much as the bad guy. From that point, I felt like a bull waiting to get released from the chute.

Yesterday (notably day two of the month, I left the first pass by completely) I wrote the first two chapters of this book, including a scene I’ve been thinking of for most of that 18 years. It flew by. I write the first 1000 word chapter in 30 minutes on my lunch break. I don’t expect all of them to come this easily as I’ve thought a lot about the beginning and end of this book, but the tricky middle where all the story and character arc happens needs much fleshing out. Looking back over the 2350 words I wrote yesterday, it lacks a lot of sublety but I can live with that at this point. I need to get something down on paper to be fixed later, and I’d rather have imperfect, unsubtle prose today than perfect and wonderful words at some indeterminate point in the fuzzy future. This whole month long exercise is about turning off the inner critic, tabling all the excuses for failing to produce and just going for it. That’s what I’m doing, I’m going for it. I have an Amazon wish list for the project that I’m not begging for people to buy me stuff so much as is a resource list for what I’m thinking about. I’ll be buying some of the music on that list to listen to as I attempt to pound out this book.

Merlin Mann actually covered some of the points that bother me about the whole NaNoWriMo infrastructure. You can follow along with me at my author’s page, but be warned I’m not doing much of the social stuff. Like Merlin says, that time you spend on the forums is time you aren’t writing and with my full-time job and a lot of other crap going on, I don’t have much ability to spend my free time not writing while still making it to 50,000 words this month.

I’m scared, I’m exhilarated, I’m happy to be making tangible something about which I have thought so much. That’s the part that matters to me, making it real. See you in December, with my nearly completed or completely completed manuscript. For November it is mostly periscope down, full bore ahead.

Sterling Editing

I frequently blog about my friends Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge because not only do I love them very much but they are both ridiculously talented. I love all their writing, and now they have a new venture in the world. They’ve formed Sterling Editing, a service for editing, mentoring and coaching writers. These ladies know their stuff, having many awards and nominations between them and having written two of my favorite books: Slow River and Solitaire.

In a world where we have an increasing number of podcast fiction writers publishing directly to audio and then their own book release via Lulu.com or the like, it makes a lot of sense to get some editorial eyes on your work in that process. They do overall assessments of generalized things to work on, line edits, mentoring and coaching. Basically, this is the stuff you need to move your writing into the next gear.

I can tell you personally that I’ve had the opportunity to get their critical eyes on my own writing, and it was a terrific and helpful experience. It never failed to improve the work at hand and also to step up my skill level. Particularly in the cases where you are going the self-publication route or think you need just a little bit more to get your novel across the hump to getting purchased, look into their services. It will be well worth your money.

Today is Kelley Day!

Today is Kelley Eskridge day at this Author August thing happening on the Science Fiction Message Board. Kelley is one of my favorite people in this world, one of my favorite writers in any genre and a person who makes things better. Check it out.

There are only a few posts on her thread as I type this but it’s early on a Saturday. I guess I’ll have to create an account on that board so I can join in. For those interested in her, I humbly point you to the Reality Break interview I did with her a few years ago around the release of her collection Dangerous Space. These are all good ways to spend your weekend.

The One Wordle I’ll Ever Create

Wordle: I Want To Be Sedated

I’m familiar with cloud type graphics. I have a tag cloud in the sidebar of this blog and I even implemented a tag cloud for AmigoFish. It’s not like the basic idea is unfamiliar to me, but I hadn’t previously used Wordle for doing it with arbitrary chunks of text. Recently it captured the attention of both my friends Nicola and Kelley, which they both turned to their own works. Literally, after 2 seconds of thought there was only one thing that I wanted put into it, and so I did. Nothing against it, but I think this one says it all so I’m probably done now. Here it is, so enjoy!

EGC Clambake for August 19, 2008 – “Fourth Anniversary, Big Whoop”

Here is the direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for August 19, 2008. I play a song from Rocket City Riot and then try and fail to read some user mail; I play a song by the Harvey Girls; I discuss this being the fourth anniversary of this podcast, why I started doing this show and why I continue and how I feel about the state of our medium; I mention New Media Expo and Michael Geoghegan and the “death of podcasting”; I play a song by Glass Eye and then groove my way on into the night.

This turns out to have been an unusually foul-mouthed episode. I guess it happens when you wind the monkey up. That’s why I disclaim this up front, kids.

You can subscribe to this podcast feed via RSS. To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5. Bandwidth for this episode is provided by Cachefly.

Links mentioned in this episode:

Nicola and Kelley Tidbits

I occasionally blog about my friends Nicola and Kelley. I realized in my list of things to blog about I had several related to them, so I thought I’d collect them together.

1. Both of them urge people to call the California governor’s office and take the phone poll about whether or not you approve of the state supreme court’s decision on gay marriage. I made my call the other day.

I’ve been blase about the issue since I attended Nicola and Kelley’s wedding in 1993. It certainly caused me no ill effects, and I thought it was one of the loveliest ceremonies I ever experienced. As a side benefit my wife and I had a nice little chat with Charlie Stross, long before he was the famous SF mojombo he is now.

2. Kelley posts that she was one of the people interviewed by AfterEllen.com. It’s short but it captures the essence of her. If you want to get up to speed on what makes Kelley tick, start there but please keep going.

3. Nicola and Kelley will be doing a reading in Los Angeles on Friday May 30th at a Different Light bookstore in West Hollywood at 7:30 PM. They are in town to attend the Lambda Literary awards where Nicola is nominated for best novel. I think she’s won every time she’s been nominated, so I’m betting on her.

4. Many moons ago (like 13 years to be exact) I was Nicola’s first webmaster. I set up and encouraged the Ask Nicola section of the site and for many years I hand formatted the HTML for all the questions and answers. That same section is now it’s own Ask Nicola blog site. Check it out, it’s a lot of fun.

I’m sure if I dug a little more I could find more stuff because they are cool people that do much cool stuff. If you watch my Google Reader shared items you’ll see many items from both of them. Enjoy, netizens!

My Friends Write Books

Two of my best friends in the world are a couple, both are writers and both of them have brand new books out now or very soon. Kelley Eskridge has her story collection Dangerous Space out shortly from Aqueduct Press. It’s not too soon to put in your order. Her debut novel Solitaire was one of my favorite book of the decade, so she is a strong bad-assed writer.

Nicola Griffith’s new novel Always is already out from Riverhead. My wife and I were readers for chemical and scientific accuracy for her novel Slow River which went on to win big awards. After a few science fiction novels, she shifted gears to the Aud Torvingen series, of which this new novel is the third. They are not exactly mystery per se, but more tough novels of a hard woman making hard choices. I really love the books and am looking forward to reading Always. Buy both books, friends. You’ll be glad that you did.

Bookmark Now

I watched the video of Eric Rice interviewing Kevin Smokler a while ago about Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times. What I didn’t realize at that time was that two of my dear friends, Kelley Eskridge and Nicola Griffith, have an essay in the book. Check it out. I thought the book sounded interesting even before I know they were in it. As a reminder, Kelley’s first novel Solitaire was one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last 5 years.