New Friends

Before the memory of the Young Writers conference fades, I want to mention a few of the interesting people I met there, and what they’re up to.

Philip Baruth is a novelist and teacher in Vermont. But he’s also a political blogger, and runs a blog called the Vermont Daily Briefing. Though a lot of what he talks about is Vermont politics, some of it is pretty funny even for outsiders. Try this entry about Senate hopeful Rich Tarrant, who chose Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business” for a campaign song. It’s hilarious, sort of in the same way Dan Quayle was hilarious.

Marjorie Ryerson is an astoundingly articulate and energetic woman, who walked away from a tenured faculty position because she felt she had more important things to do with her life. (The fact that these other things didn’t necessarily pay was an annoying side effect.) She’s an author, which is enough for many people, but one of the other things she did was found an organization called Water Music, “an international, non-profit project designed to help the earth’s waters” through the arts and music. Her book, Water Music, is a spectacularly beautiful collection of photographs combined with poems and mini-essays by musicians, who are helping the cause by putting on benefit concerts. She’s working with the UN (UNESCO, if I’m remembering correctly), and in addition to trying to raise awareness among Americans of the importance of protecting our water heritage, she’s working overseas to help provide clean drinking water to populations who (unlike many of us) cannot take it for granted.

Doug Wilhelm has written a young adult novel called The Revealers, which deals with bullying in the middle school years. The book has been so successful in raising consciousness about the issue that it’s being used in many middle schools as a resource for focusing attention on the problem of bullying. Doug recently adapted the novel as a play, and that has been successfully put on in several middle schools. (My family is reading it right now, to see if it might be something our local theater group might be interested in trying.) The other thing you should know about Doug is that he’s about 8 feet tall, and you can pick him out of any crowd. (Okay, okay, 6′ 10″ — close enough.)

Finally, the director of the workshop, Matt Dickerson, is not just a teacher of computer science, but a writer of nonfiction literary analysis—his latest book being From Homer to Harry Potter, with another one coming on the subject of Tolkien and environmentalism—and the author of a historical fantasy novel. He also has a son who’s a budding SF writer. He’s also a hell of a nice guy, and he puts on a whopping good conference.

Taxes Done! And Other Stories of Astronomical Importance

Well, I got those pesky taxes done and out of the way with time to spare! (Let’s see, about a hundred hours to spare, I figure.) So I sort of, almost, kept my New Year’s resolution to not fall behind and do my taxes at the last minute this year. We wound up owing a bit, so it’s not like we lost out on getting an early refund.

And having finished that, I’m now back to wrestling with a far more challenging problem: making sense of Chapter 13 in Sunborn. (It didn’t come out so well in the first draft. I think I’m getting there, though.)

Astronomically speaking, I just read a couple of interesting stories. Venus, that greenhouse hothouse of a planet, has a new visitor—the European Space Agency’s probe Venus Express, which entered orbit around the planet just yesterday. Here’s to Venus Express [takes a swig of Winterhook Ale].

Out at the other extreme of the solar system, Hubble scientists have taken a look at Xena, aka 2003 UB313, considered by some to be (maybe) the long-sought 10th planet. The Hubble people put its diameter at 1490 miles, rather than the original estimate of 1860 miles. That would make it almost exactly the same size as Pluto. Says “Since 2003 UB313 is 10 billion miles away not even as wide as the United States, it showed up as just 1.5 pixels in Hubble’s view. But that’s enough to precisely make a size measurement, astronomers said.” If they can really do that, that’s…impressive.

And finally, consider RS Ophiuchi. It’s a binary star system, a white dwarf and a red giant. Like many such pairs, it’s also a source of fireworks, as matter falling from the giant onto the white dwarf periodically causes the smaller star to explode. What’s different about this star is that it blows up inside the atmosphere of its larger buddy. This is something new, never seen before.

And if you periodically worry, as I do, about what’s going to happen to the Earth a billion years from now when our own sun blows up into a red giant (incinerating us), some astrophysicist types named Fred Adams, Gregory Laughlin, and Don Korycansky have an answer: use carefully aimed asteroids to give Earth a gravitational boost and move it to a safer orbit! It’s a sort of long-term project, with each pass of the asteroid (every 6000 years) nudging the Earth a little farther from the sun. (“Captain, our orbit is decaying!” Nope—not anymore!)

Happy Birthday!

Lest I seem all dark and gloomy, let me hasten to add that today was my wife’s birthday! (Well, it’s yesterday now, but it still feels like today to me.) We’ve been together for over 20 years now, and it was a joy to celebrate with her and with the girls. She’s a supportive and trusting wife, an intelligent and funny companion, and a bedrock to the raising of our daughters. And the best friend I ever had. Happy birthday, Allysen!

Boskone, and News about Galactica

Well, I had a thoroughly pleasant time at Boskone. This took me a little by surprise, only because I was feeling all grumpy and not really in the mood to go out. I had to, though, because I was scheduled to be on panels. And once I got there and started seeing old friends, and making some new ones, I got into the spirit of it. I also thought this was the liveliest and most interesting Boskone I have seen in a number of years.

One pleasant result was encountering some fans who had already read Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries. The feedback was all good. Perhaps the nicest was from a young woman who happens to be a Commander in the US Navy, and who is about to become captain of a guided missile destroyer. She said she thought I’d captured the feel of the story very well—and I took that as significant praise, coming from someone who actually knows what it’s like to run a military vessel. (The only ones I have ever been aboard have been museums, rather like what Galactica was scheduled to become before the pesky Cylons interfered.)

An encouraging sidelight was hearing from one of my writing buddies that he’d met with his editor and confirmed the sale of a new trilogy. Earning a living as a writer is not easy for any of us, and he’s no exception. I don’t know if I should mention his name here, so I’ll just say that it rhymes with Craig Shaw Gardner, and his writing style is very similar. I’ll let him announce the details once everything’s been inked.

And finally, I came home to see an email from my editor, telling me that Galactica has sold to a British publisher and has had a book club sale. Given that my biggest rationale for writing the book was to get my name back in front of the public (I didn’t know then that I was going to enjoy Galactica so much), this is very good news indeed. More readers, and—who knows—maybe even a little more money, in the long run.

(Which reminds me of something I want to write about—readers versus money. But later. Remind me if I forget.)

Battlestar Galactica Audiobook

I have finally received my copies of the audiobook edition of my novel Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries. It’s read by Jonathan Davis, and it sounds good! (Well, the first ten minutes sound good, which is what I’ve listened to.) If you enjoy audiobooks, you might like to give it a try. (It is abridged, I should point out.)

This is the first of my books to be put into audiobook format, so it’s a new experience for me. It’s also the first time I’ve had one of my books abridged, and that takes a little getting used to. The method was not, as I expected, to go through and remove phrases and shorten sentences. Instead, they simply removed entire sentences, probably about one in every four or five. I think it works okay, though to my (prejudiced) ear, there is something lost. Still, it’s instructive how much you can cut and still have it work. I don’t know who did the cutting.

Note, I’m still calling the novel “the Miniseries,” because that’s what it is, notwithstanding the fact that someone along the way—certainly without asking me—took that informative subtitle off the cover of the book. At first they changed it to “the original hit series,” and when I pointed out how misleading that was, they took it off, but didn’t restore “the Miniseries.” I hope no one is confused by the packaging into thinking that the novel reflects the series that followed. It doesn’t. Some future novel might, though.

Galactica Questions

I was asked to come online at a place called Galactica Station/Ragnar Anchorage and answer questions from BSG fans about the miniseries novel. I’ve gone into somewhat greater depth about the novel there than I have here, so if you’d like to read my comments, you can view them at Ragnar Anchorage.

You don’t have to be registered to read the posts, as far as I know.

Galactica, Bye Bye Birdie, and Joint Compound

Between being busy at play performances, and being up to my elbows in joint compound at home, I think I forgot to mention that Battlestar Galactica: The Miniseries has been approved by the studio—so I think I can say with reasonable confidence that it’s on track for publication by Tor Books in February of 2006. (That really means January, in case you’re not familiar with publishers’ calendars.)

The girls were on Channel 4 TV here in Boston Friday night (late night news), only we didn’t see it because we hadn’t gotten the word about when it was running. We heard about it from friends who happened to watch the news. It was a short piece about online learning through the Virtual High School, and their experience taking month-long courses this last month. Hope we get to see it sometime.

Galactica One Step Closer

I finished correcting the proofs for Battlestar Galactica today. A book always feels different when you see it typeset, and I’m happy to say that it I was pleased by the way it came out. I enjoyed reading it (not always true of reading my own stuff), and I got excited in the right places, and felt for the characters in the right places. So my hopes are high. Still no official word from the studio yet, but assuming nothing goes wrong there, it’s in Tor’s schedule for February 2006. If the Good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.

At the same time, life just got busy on another level: we started dress rehearsal for Bye Bye Birdie at the Arlington Children’s Theater, and as I’m the head sound guy, I have to be there a lot, trying to get the sound to work out right and training a couple of new people—other parents who want to learn sound. That’s going to take up a lot of time for the next two weeks. My own kids are in four performances of the blue cast, plus there are four other performances by the red cast. It’ll be fun, but tiring.

I haven’t forgotten that I promised to write about rewriting, per Harry’s query. Just haven’t had time to do it yet.

Writing Question #6: What’s It Like to Write a Movie Novelization?

Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries was my first movie novelization, and a refreshing experience. First off, it gave me a welcome breather from working on the long-delayed Sunborn, coming as it did just as I finished the first draft of that book. Secondly, I enjoyed the miniseries and loved the acting (Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell were terrific, and so were the others). It was just plain fun to work in that world and sort through the details of the story. (Sidelight to that: my daughter Julia is homeschooling, and we made it an assignment for her to watch the DVD with me, and compare the action onscreen with the written script. Many differences.) Third, it forced me to work at a fast and furious pace, which was good. I didn’t have to make up the story—it was already there. Many of you have probably already seen it. If not, I recommend it, from the SciFi Channel.

But that doesn’t mean it was all easy-sailing, either. I found some unique (to me) challenges in writing this book. Turning a story on screen into a novel is not a simple matter of transcription, even though I was working from the actual show on DVD—and even though I tried hard to be faithful to the story as it appeared, including the dialogue.

When you’re writing the novel, you have to flesh out things that go by quickly onscreen, or get left out altogether, perhaps due to time constraints. This was a 4-hour miniseries—3 hours, without commercials. They had to work very hard to squeeze the story into 3 hours, and a lot wound up on the cutting room floor (either literally, or figuratively—in scenes not shot or perhaps not even written). This meant writing new material to bridge gaps or abrupt transitions, and there were many. Or to fill in background.

What surprised me more was the amount of… how shall I put it?… re-imagining needed to tell on the page a story that’s already been told on the screen. Things happen fast onscreen, and as a viewer, you don’t always have time to think about what you’ve just seen, and whether or not it makes sense. I’m not talking about large plot elements, so much as details and pieces of dialogue and motivation. The show’s writers are trying to compress the action, and sometimes the results—which might be perfectly acceptable to a viewer—are less persuasive when you see them laid out on the page. (This is not a criticism; it’s a fact of life.) Things have to be explained. Motivations for even small actions have to withstand a reader squinting at the page and going, Hmmm.

The challenge, then, is to tell the story without changing it (much), reproduce the dialogue without changing it (much), and tweak it or bolster it in just the right ways to make it work on the page as well as it worked onscreen (or better, if possible). It’s not always easy. But it’s generally pretty interesting.

Oh—and it gave me an excuse to write about flying. I always love writing about flying.

Galactica’s Done! Plus Other Cool News

That’s all she wrote: Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries: the Novel is finished and turned in. Big sighs all around. Initial reaction from my editor is very positive. (He’d read the whole thing less than 24 hours after I sent it to him—a first for either of us.) The book is going into an accelerated production schedule for publication next winter. I’ll post more definite details as they become official. The publication stuff is all tentative right now.

Meanwhile, the other cool news is that my younger daughter, Julia, just won national ranking in the middle-school category of an international SF short-story writing competition. The competition is sponsored by Eurisy, which as far as I can tell is an educational consortium of many European space organizations, including the European Space Agency. Students in 18 nations are submitting SF stories depicting life in space, each to go through a selection process at the national level, with each nation’s top two in middle school and high school going on to the international competition. The U.S. entries were judged through the National Space Society. Julia’s story is one of two selected by the U.S. judges to go on to the international competition. Excited she is, yes. And so are we.

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