I’m excited to announce the new ebook edition of Chapters 1-10 of my serial The Scientists and the Spy!
Weekly episodes are great, but now you can binge-read the last two months of this thrilling wartime mystery set in Washington DC. Includes all the period photos from the website, plus an afterword about writing historical fiction.
Available in editions for all e-readers – download today!
Today the Forest Hills Connection published the first chapter of my new serial novel, The Scientists and the Spy.
Based on the World War II weapons work of the United States National Bureau of Standards, which in that time was based in my own neighborhood, it’s a weekly serial mystery for a general audience.
We’re kicking off the serial with a public reading and lecture here in Washington DC, with historian Margery Elfin and science historian James Schooley joining me and Marlene Berlin, the Connection’s Editor.
Very exciting times!
For a decade now, I have worked at a standing desk: first on boxes and books piled on a seated desk, then on hasty constructs made from scrap lumber. Now I stand at a custom-built desk, my bare feet on a thick gel mat. There is an obvious and immediate ergonomic benefit for any computer user* — straighter back, continuously engaged body, deeper and easier breathing. I also believe it helps my prose.
Most writing advice goes to helping your plot or consolidating characters, to making things more identifiable. No one ever suggests posture as a tool for writers, the way it is for musicians and actors, so, let me.
Writers play a lot of roles in their heads, and it helps to stand while acting them out. If I want to write a sexy dance, or the discomfort of injury, or a shallow-breathed panic, the freedom of movement gives me more freedom to imagine, to act and to feel.
Writers tend to like cafes, as a balance against the solitude of writing. I wonder if the ability to study other people casually, their looks and movement and ways of being, without the distraction of, say, a film narrative, doesn’t play a role. But cafes are often distracting too.
If you’re looking to liven up your prose in the productive quiet of your garret, why not pile up some boxes and get on your feet? It takes a few minutes to measure your own ideal heights, and possibly some configuring – the distance between hands and eyes is greater standing than seated, so laptop users may need an external keyboard and mouse.
It also opens up some possibilities you might not have considered. I use my monitor portrait now – in fact, I use two!
Of course, you can still sit down from time to time. I don’t stand to pay bills.
*You can write longhand at a standing desk too, but I find it’s better to use a sloped surface so you are not staring straight down. These are less easy to find than they used to be. Search “writing slant” or “writing slope,” or try back sites, calligraphy sites, and of course auction sites.
I’m so sorry! I have never shared my new novel with my blog. I think in part it’s because I view this as a less promotional space than a reflective one. I’ve posted about it in its future home, however, so I should talk about it here too. Perhaps more reflectively.
Starting in the first quarter of 2015 I will be publishing a serial historical mystery online at the Forest Hills Connection. It’s set in Washington DC in 1942, inspired by the wartime work of the National Bureau of Standards, which included proximity fuses for bombs and early uranium enrichment, along with many other unglamorous but vital duties such as alloys, radio crystals and weaponry sights. It’s also inspired by the strange life of Washington’s home front, a sleepy city become a world power and flooded with the nation’s first cadre of single women office workers. Here’s a promotional article with photos from the era.
The book came accidentally, an idea from the editor of our local neighborhood website to develop a serial novel about the neighborhood’s history, informed by the popularity of the historical articles the site publishes. Most neighborhoods at best have only a couple of novelists so my name came up quickly. I researched and I found myself interested.
But lots of things interest me. Novels are work and serials unfamiliar ground. I haven’t wanted to do anything but fantasy and sci-fi in decades. As a career move, another fantasy would be more in order, or a continued focus on short stories (but more about that in the next post). And it’s not as if I’m being paid.
So in the spirit of professionalism, in wanting my fiction to be more than a hobby — is this good business or bad? Continue reading →
Our upcoming vacation is meant to be a nice thing, not improved by a laptop. If I really feel motivated to write fiction, I can write on paper.
But, I would feel just better with a bigger screen and keyboard at my disposal. So I’ve been using my tablet (an iPad mini) for occasional work, as something of an experiment.
I have never taken seriously the idea of tablets as work devices. Wonderful for watching and reading, excellent for play, but they ask too many compromises for productivity.
But, this is another way of saying my productivity has become encrusted with too much stuff. Continue reading →
My writing group noted that my new story, though a different setting, is also a post-apolcyalypse tale, or at least post-disaster. One colleague included my novel in that theme, even though in my novel things are good, but about to get worse. It’s pre-apocalyptic, she said.
Something in that. My faith is that humanity will persist, but a lot of bad things are going to happen. By the standards of the past they already have. Like my mentor Philip K Dick, I’m less pinpointing details of the great shift, just exploring scenes after upheaval, where people have adapted to far different norms of environment and behavior. I no doubt absorbed this from my family history, for my parents fled war and Soviet occupation, and my own late 20th century life, where we took on huge social changes, and where the rest of the world changed vastly more. I greatly admire writers like Jim Shepard and Harlan Ellison, who change up place and time each story yet keep consistent in their approach and style.
Perhaps I’ll be more sensitive to this strain of pre-apocalyptic. I hope it will give me a way to glide across genre. I would enjoy writing historical. Continue reading →
A short note, for those who read my last post: I made my goal, reducing my novel 10.2% down to 124,400 words. Not merely a slimming — at least ten passages, or one every 15,000 words, needed a complete rewrite just to make sense, and in some cases had to grow. It was a grueling process, and I was exhausted for several days after. But it’s done.
Russia haunts my novel. I say haunts because I only gave it a short nod, but it wound up reappearing, unintentionally but naturally, in surprising ways.
My earliest inspiration, my reassurance that I could use fantasy to describe the heart of a real people, was Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, a satiric romp in which the Devil holds a grand ball in the heart of an atheistic society. Now it is viewed by those who lived under communism as a true document, a history of the soul’s sadness in those times. If only I could find a way to tell my times through that same lens, I thought, and my story was born.
I only meant to use Russia in my novel as a light on my character Gabriel — on his rigidity, his desire for order and clarity, his deep angry passion; his refusal to drink alcohol, forbidding himself the only Serenity Prayer that Russians allow; that Gabriel learned Russian at birth, educated by Cold Warriors for the world they expected to continue until Armageddon — until the Wall fell, making Gabriel and his Russian know-how into a thirteen-year-old buggy-whip.
But Russia kept returning, in scenes comic and topical. Of course an East German of Gabriel’s generation would speak better Russian than English, allowing a secret language to the security guards of Eurocentric technocracy. Of course new Silovik money would seek the status markers of golfing and Scotch whisky. But why my immortal smoked Russian cigarettes, why a Haitian loa told a Pushkin joke, why Gabriel’s mother found happiness through a different Pushkin joke — ask my muse. I can see the connections in retrospect, and credit my unconscious with wisdom. But maybe in the great Immateria where stories are born, Russia bullied my muse, as if offended by (or sniffing opportunity in) my casual usage. So you want a taste? Russia said menacingly. That makes it my pie.
I think it’s saying the same to the whole world right now. Continue reading →
Speaking strictly commercially, I did everything wrong with my writing. I don’t have an identifiable genre or sub-genre. It’s a literary noir-styled fantasy thriller romance and an allegory about globalization and growing up. There’s no shelf for that. Crossing genres and styles is gaining popularity, but it’s still a hard sell to make cold.
Perhaps I could have written odd short stories and gained a following, but my novel had too strong a pull. And of course I had to write it five times over. And it’s still a big book.
So. There it is. Nothing to do about it now but change course. Continue reading →
So, I am an old fart. I have always been one. By feel and intuition I cobbled myself a classical education in high school, reading Shakespeare long before it was assigned, learning mythology from academic dictionaries and old minor epics, studying Latin, using French. My love of punk music (old fart chronologically, too) and my knack for the tech and culture of computer networking (which got me hired at AOL way back before a phone could go in a pocket, much less go online) hid my mustiness pretty well, so long as I kept my vocabulary in check. But my way of being has a sense of the past about it. I live larger by living across time.
This is not the most comfortable perch when one has a new book to sell, when one tries on glittering adjectives to catch the eyes of agents. Continue reading →
Four months since I did any work worth the mention. Five days since my beloved dog T__ died, his death too sudden. He lived 13 years, long enough to see his work completed: my first novel, written and rewritten while his snoring bulk warmed my toes, finally finished; my firstborn son, born to the wife he found for me, now just old enough to remember him always.
We go on. But not comfortably.
I am a privileged man. I live well in a rich country, my few problems good ones to have. As a young man I made public light of our universal predicament, joking that I was an ephemeral being floating through life, leaving no vestige of my passing. In middle-age it is truer and less funny. I am the defiant cry of my parents, exiled by wars both hot and cold from the land of their birth. But I fear I am merely the echo that starts some avalanche. I want something more.
I want to write memorably but I don’t know who is looking for that.
Last year my friend A___ sent an excerpt of Rudy Rucker’s autobiography. Rucker in turn cites Camus to explain the depressing experience of writing as well as you can only to have no one notice. It is what I return to as motivation, a reminder that the world is hard to move. Continue reading →