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Writer’s indecision

Hello, readers! I managed to keep up a fairly steady writing schedule in October but alas, November has me falling behind. The reason is that I’ve come to a climactic part in the book and I keep writing it out, then changing my mind because it doesn’t seem quite like what the book needs. I do have notes I’m trying to write from, and I think I have to spend some time plotting, doing nothing but visualizing what is happening, before I can make progress. But this is nothing that can’t be remedied. I think I’ll probably wind up writing five or six chapters in one go as I deal with this part of the book.

Today most of my writing went toward figuring out a budget and writing out a budget justification for a grant I’m writing. So with that, and a lot of laundry, finished, I think I can spend this evening working on this tricky section of Anagama.

To be honest, one reason I haven’t just plunked myself down and dealt with this section already is that I’ve been just exhausted, and dealing with a lot of weird anxiety-producing thoughts (welcome to winter! This happens to me every winter, which is why I take every chance I get in the winter to travel to warmer climes). Last weekend I felt fine, but I was in Stockbridge, MA helping a friend move. Hopefully there will be no more travel, and no more family obligations (other than my sister-in-law visiting on the first weekend in December) that will eat into my writing time.

I’m not really worried about missing my Dec. 31st deadline, though, because I have a full week off work in December, and I have not made a lot of holiday plans. One day I will spend organizing my desk, which is actually a dining table heaped with piles of papers, and filing things away. My husband will be working a lot over December and the holidays, and so I’ll be spending many of those days alone by choice- this gives me plenty of time to focus on getting Anagama finished.

Happy Thanksgiving to my USA readers, and may everyone stay safe and warm, wherever you are.

This train is still on track, chugging away

Hello, readers! My writing, while it goes slowly, goes well. I am pacing myself so I don’t have breakdowns, which unfortunately is something I’ve learned I have to do. A clever analogy to this is summed up by the Spoon Theory. In my case, while I don’t suffer physical pain, I can overwork myself very easily and consequently suffer psychological malaise that makes it very hard to function. I’ve learned I need to rest often and break up work into segments, and as long as I get my segments done in time, the project is also done in time.  So my work is like a train, stopping often for water and coal, chugging down the track at a slow but steady pace.

I’ve had a really, really good idea for a twist to the plot of Infinity– so good that I don’t want to hint at what it is, other than that it will require a bit more research on my part.  I’ve got library books and as I am feeling feverish and under the weather with a cold, I figure I will read my books and cogitate, rather than try a lot of writing.

My novel Anagama is still on track- I will be flying to and from California to go to a wedding next weekend, and I will probably work on it during the plane rides, unless I am exhausted. I may work on it tomorrow night or Tuesday night as well. I have a tricky section of the book to figure out before I can write it- I want to make it as exciting and action-packed as possible, and yet still plausible. So I may have to rethink how my characters go about their activities for several chapters, and I don’t want to just write some stuff that I’ll have to throw out again later because it makes no sense. A lot of what I will do today is just scribbling ideas down and deciding which of them play out the best.

Even if I don’t do any actual penning of words today, I’m on schedule for finishing a draft of Anagama by December 31, and I figure after that I should be able to finish polishing it up by Easter, if not before. At that point I should be ready to start writing Infinity. So all is well.

Enjoy your Pumpkin Spice Lattes, and if you don’t like Pumpkin Spice Lattes, this story is for you: In Which No One Drinks a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

On Mr. Robot and its portrayal of mental disorders

I like to spend time with my husband watching television at night- and often I pull out my laptop and only half pay attention, dealing with emails or surfing social media.

When he put on the series Mr. Robot, I couldn’t stop watching.  The main character, Elliot, suffers from social anxiety disorder (and probably other disorders as well) and the portrayal of what it’s like to deal with mental illness is absolutely spot-on. I can’t give any details or I risk spoiling the story for people that haven’t seen the show, but I was amazed at how well the show was able to nail down the sensations people like me go through at times.

My own particular blend of problems is not entirely without merit. For example, I go through hypomanic periods of greater activity, happiness,  creativity and self-confidence, and these periods bring with them a lot of good ideas. One of them turned into my cancer-fighting gut bacterial project (find information here) and others have led me to ideas for how to reduce greenhouse gases produced by farm manure digesters, or how to make antimicrobial molecules which target ony specific pathogens better able to be taken up by cells, and so make those molecules more likely to be useful medicines. I also have had a lot of different recurring dreams, and while some of them are unsettling many are harmless, even entertaining. For example, I keep thinking I might have met the cast of Family Guy at a coffee shop in North Hollywood.  I’ve also got a memory of meeting Julius Sharpe (a writer) at the same cafe at a different time, where he complimented me on my polka-dot sunglasses.

I have turned some of my odd notions into the plot for my novel Infinity (which I will get to when I finish my current work, Anagama).  For those unfamiliar with my work, Infinity is a story of a bipolar scientist who is the target of  bizarre attacks which  she never quite believes happened, and how her descendants must use time travel and quantum entanglement devices to try to rescue her.  Anagama is set in a dystopian future where Zurvan Corporation is able to designate kidnapped people as property if their genomes are sufficiently different from “normal human”; two designated non-humans and their allies join forces in an attempt to bring down Zurvan and find freedom.

I’ve been struggling with food poisoning symptoms today, but as I type this it is only 3 pm in the afternoon and the house is quiet. I should be able to pull off another couple of chapters this evening, and/or transcribe what I’ve written in my notebook to my digital files. I’m not too far off track in terms of my writing schedule for Anagama.

If you haven’t seen Mr. Robot, I strongly suggest you do- I found it absolutely fascinating, and the most realistic, and sympathetic, portrayal of mental illness I’ve seen on the small screen in a long time.

Move over, kitty!

I’ve written before about my struggles with maintaining my productivity in the face of carrying out a full-time day job that’s creatively exhausting and also completing deadlines associated with my other interests.  These include my personal cancer research project, and the general audience science articles I write for The Conversation. I don’t get paid for the latter two things, though I may be able to fund part of my salary via grants for the research project, and I find the science article outreach to be rewarding on an emotional level.  Today I wrote a 500 word outline of an article that will be about evaluating the risks and benefits of a new technology, with a focus on the debate surrounding neonicotinoid pesticides and bees. Since the final article will only be about 800-1000 words, I guess you can say it’s already half-written!

So that was useful, but I promised myself I’d do more creative fiction writing as well- and while I struggled for a few weeks to get anything written down since my last blog post, I did manage in the past three days to write four chapters for my novel-in-progress Anagama, as well as edit a number of other chapters to fix errors in continuity or to make events seem more plausible.  I actually sat down with a printout of what I have written so far as well as a notebook that I’m scribbling in longhand, since I wasted a lot of time in the past paging back and forth in my lengthening novel document, trying to find chapters I had written previously to remind myself of details, or try to regain a feel for a certain setting.  This new system of writing is far more efficient and relaxing for me, even though I write more slowly than I type.

I still need to sit down and type all the scribbles into my computer (something I look forward to, as I know from experience at this point I edit and re-edit, adding in details, which I find extremely satisfying), but I am happy with my progress.  Upon finishing this blog post, I will probably try to write another chapter (though this one will not be fuelled by espresso drinks, as the previous four were).

The fat orange cat was sitting in front of my camera for a while there, but determined effort on my part has made it shift its fluffy butt away. With luck, I can keep it occupied while maintaining my current good health and energy levels, and stay on track to finish a first draft of Anagama by the end of the year.

Writing around the orange cat

I don’t have a lot of free time to write fiction- I have evenings and weekends, and I’ve set aside one day (Sunday) and one evening (Monday nights) for creative fiction. That being said, for the past two weeks I’ve been exhausted and have used those times for socializing or working on projects with due dates attached, or simply resting. The fat orange cat of life’s inevitable requirements on my time and energy is sitting in front of the camera, blocking my attempts at art.

I hope to get another chapter for Anagama out the door today- I am now more motivated than ever to finish it, as I’ve sent the first two chapters to my former English prof and he liked them enough to request more. It’s a pity I’m so far from the finishing line! I have twenty-nine chapters or so to finish writing, and I hope to have them finished by the end of this year, if I keep to my writing schedule of one to two chapters (rough drafts) per week. If I manage this, I’m giving myself three months after New Year’s Eve to finish editing and polishing and check the manuscript for continuity errors (it’s easy to make these mistakes when you write the work in pieces separated over time). So the book should be finished in time for Easter 2016.

I also have a copy of Michio Kaku’s The Fuure of the Mind to read- the appendix has given me an idea for a technological twist to my current work-in-progress Infinity (still being plotted, I am afraid, though I have written a short piece involving one of the more colourful characters).

I know it’s terrible of me, but I keep hoping that I can get a break from my day job (I’m a scientist at the University of Guelph) and focus on this book exclusively for at least a month. If writing were my main occupation and I didn’t have to earn a living doing other things, I think I’d probably be a lot more productive than I generally have been.

That being said, I also am busy with a few other nonfiction writing projects- I am investigating links between neonicotinoid pesticides and bees, and hope to have a short (800-1000 word) article written by early September. I also am taking the lead on working on a grant proposal for my Cancer-Fighting Gut Bacteria project.

I feel I should have finished these things long ago, but the orange cat was there, batting at my face, occupying my attention. With luck I can manage to write around it and accomplish my writing and research goals.

A little field research in quantum entanglement

So a few days ago I went to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo, and was given a tour of some of the facilities. It was fascinating stuff. I am trying to learn more about the phenomenon of quantum entanglement so I can write about it without making too many egregious mistakes.

This is research for Infinity, which may take some time, as I also need to look into recent work in neurobiology. This is fine, my focus group is busy and I await feedback from most of them on whether the plot, with all its time travel, is too confusing.

Equipment in the Institute for Quantum Computing - University of Waterloo
Equipment in the Institute for Quantum Computing – University of Waterloo

In the meantime, I know exactly what I want to do with Anagama and work on that is progressing nicely. I am busy this weekend with social obligations but I am ahead of schedule for writing chapters. The work is now at around 20,000 words.

 

Anagama

In 1994 or 1995, I wrote a science fiction short story (pretentiously titled “Notes from the Underground”) about a cyberpunk vampire with no name who is addicted to a drug that helps him stop feeding on people. I sent it to several science fiction magazines and was soundly rejected, though Algis Budrys was nice enough to write me about two pages of ways in which he thought my story could be improved.

In 1998, after I finished my first novel Perigee, I decided to pick this story up again- and it became a novel, Anagama. Its plot changed and changed again in the years between then and now, the cyberpunk went largely away, and finally last year I realized that it was missing an entire character, an entire subplot, an entire focus. So I tore it apart and changed it yet again, coming up with an entire new plot with, I thought, fewer holes.

I meant to finish Anagama last year, but was distracted with many other projects, and my best intentions of spending an hour writing every night were destroyed almost immediately after I had made those intentions. Life just got in the way, like a fat orange tomcat sitting in front of a camera that’s been set up to take footage of complex yoga poses.

I thought I’d never finish Anagama. Today is the first day in about eleven months since I did any work on it, and the only reason I am working on it, and not my new project Infinity– also a science fiction novel, this time based on actual dreams of mine which have recurred time and again and woven themselves into a complex narrative- is that I am awaiting feedback from my small, three-person focus group on the plot of it, as well as feedback from a very kind and patient string theorist from USC who has agreed to help me figure out less stupid ways to make stable traversable wormholes, or to have things move in a non-chronological fashion in time.

I’m pleased to announce that Anagama is currently at 17,864 words and that there are only twenty-nine chapters left, and twenty-two weeks left in this year. If I can finish one or two chapters a week for the rest of this year, I might even have a draft done by December 31st! That would be a great New Year’s gift to myself, and while I love the story for Infinity, it requires a lot more planning and care than Anagama. All I need to finish Anagama is relative peace, some creative energy, and time.

Here is hoping that fat orange cat doesn’t decide to sit in front of my camera again!

Draft outline of the story for Infinity has been finished!

A few weeks ago I pushed myself and finished a reworked draft outline of the story for Infinity, my science fiction work in progress.  I’ve lined up several people to read it over, including my former English prof (he taught a course in science fiction and moments from it stay with me to this day!). I myself hope to use vacation time in coming days to look over the draft I have yet again and perhaps fill out some of the notes I’ve made which are more notes to myself to note dream images, and not intelligible to other people.

As part of the research into this story, I’ve also finished reading Black Holes, Wormholes and Time Machines by Jim Al-Khalili (a wonderful book! If any of the subjects in the title interest you, go and find it), and I’ve downloaded a few articles on quantum entanglement to read as well. I found a copy of Lee Smolin’s Time Reborn in a local bookshop- it is a fascinating read, likewise! It rains on my particular time-travel parade, but I’m still enjoying it.

I’m making efforts to find a physicist kind enough to put up with all my silly questions about quantum entanglement, closed timelike curves, wormholes, and unusual movement through time. I’ve also asked the University of Waterloo if someone there can show me around the Institute for Quantum Computing, where apparently entanglement experiments are done quite frequently. I would love to see one!

Black holes, wormholes and closed timelike curves

So, I’ve been working on the physics of time travel- or I should say, the fake physics, since I am merely attempting to come up with a convincing explanation for how unusual movement in spacetime might occur that can fool everyone but a physicist. I’m not well versed in physics, so this is an uphill battle for me.

This is part of my work on “Infinity”, and I have to say that while it’s challenging, it is rewarding. I so far have spent time simply reading books on physics trying to glean information, and while some books are disappointing, providing too simple explanations and in so doing, being self-contradictory (Sean Carroll, I am looking at your book From Eternity to Here), Lee Smolin’s Three Roads to Quantum Gravity is a rewarding read which actually accurately explains the second law of thermodynamics. I have a library copy, but I want to buy a copy to keep as it will be a good reference.

I keep thinking of closed timelike curves, black holes and wormholes- I want to learn more about how these constructs work, BUT I also have to make them function in a universe in which it’s very difficult to change the past, and in which objects and information can move in unusual ways in spacetime- and this movement is not only possible, it’s easy.  It happens spontaneously all the time, though we often do not detect it as it happens in an untargeted way (an analogy is laser light as opposed to normal light- both are light, but one requires much more technology to achieve). I do have some ideas as to how to explain this movement in spacetime in fake science that sounds fairly good, but it’s important to be sure I’m not making a very obvious mistake- so I’m reading partly to educate myself to find mistakes, and partly to get ideas that might help me hone my explanations.  And in the process, I’m learning a lot of interesting stuff.

I am doing all this work because a pet peeve of mine is fake science in movies, shows and books which is so obviously wrong- it bothers me when people research costumes and setting meticulously but ignore something like the basis of plot elements that are rooted in science. It’s laziness not to at least try to learn enough about your subject matter not to sound like an idiot. I may not be able to avoid sounding like an idiot, but I am certainly going to try.

Infinity

So I spent maybe forty minutes waiting tonight for a friend to join me at a restaurant, and managed to get about five or six sheets of notes down- a rough outline of scenes for the first half of a story I want to write. The story is tentatively titled Infinity and is loosely based on dreams I’ve had for the past two years.  This work is difficult for me to write in one sense, since it’s very close to me, and in another sense is quite easy, since I merely have to describe events I feel I’ve experienced already.

I’ve been reading screenplays, and the style in which they are written matches in many respects the way I like to write. I don’t flatter myself that I will be an award-winning screenwriter, or that if I write a screenplay anyone will make it into a film, but I figure I can try my hand at each of a novel and a screenplay. It’s such a cliché, the person writing a screenplay in her spare time, so this is a project I probably won’t talk about very much. I have no idea how long this project may take.