Sunborn First Draft Finished!

Yes. At last. I have typed the ending words of the fourth book of The Chaos Chronicles! And they are:

“To be continued…”

Which isn’t a joke, of course, if you’ve been following the Chaos series. My faithful readers have been waiting a lonnnnng time for this fourth book in the series, the fourth of a planned six total. (I was shocked myself to look back at the header in the early chapters: I started this thing in the fall of the year 2000. Oy.)

Note the title of this entry, though. First draft finished. I’ve got a lot of rewriting to do. A lot of rewriting. It all came together and made sense (I think) in the end. But a lot of the 706 manuscript pages of this book are…well, I’ll be polite because this is a family publication…a godawful mess. But that’s okay. Really. Because getting that first draft down is the crucial thing. I can always work with it and straighten out the things that are wrong, once I have it down on paper (or phosphors, or LCD pixels) to look at. It’ll take me a while, and it’ll hurt, but I know I can do it.

Yes! Gimme a high-five, please!

Getting Back in the Groove

Wow. It’s been too long since I’ve posted–about two weeks. I’ve been caught up in work deadlines (editing–which involves some writing, but not my writing). That’s now behind me for a while, so I’m getting back to work on Sunborn, starting today.

Last weekend I attended Boskone, a very good science fiction convention held in Boston every year, and had a chance to catch up with some of my writing friends. I also picked up some of the latest offerings from Full Cast Audio, dramatized readings of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic Have Spacesuit Will Travel and The Rolling Stones. If you haven’t heard any of Full Cast Audio’s productions, you really should check them out. They use terrific voice actors, and present books in unabridged form. (The man behind the operation is Bruce Coville, who obviously doesn’t have enough to do writing his immensely popular books for kids.) Visit their web site! (And no, I don’t get a kickback from them. But tell them I sent you, anyway.)

As a way to unwind a bit from the editing before starting work again on the book, I turned to a bit of amateur carpentry today. We’ve been doing some renovations in our kitchen, which included replacing the sink cabinet and counter, and putting in a proper dishwasher. That meant we could pass on our old portable dishwasher to someone else, but it left an empty space where the old one provided a small counter by our stove. So…not wanting to throw out something that could be useful, I decided to cannibalize the old cabinet, and see if I could manage to stack two drawers that used to be at opposite ends of the old counter. So I cut the cabinet remnants (it had been pretty well torn apart) and the old countertop -and it looks as if it’s going to work. (Fingers crossed -it’s not done yet.)

And now, I promised I’d get to work on the book, so I’m getting.

Vanity Press Sting

Have you ever wondered just how honest vanity presses are? Well, one of them just showed its stripes to the world. Read about their hilarious comeuppance at (Thirty writers got together and submitted the worst manuscript they could come up with, to see if it would be accepted for publication by a “selective” subsidy publisher.)

In case you’re not sure what a vanity press is, it’s a “publisher” that preys upon would-be writers by charging the writers hefty fees to print their books—regardless of quality, or lack of it—with little or no editorial guidance. The unfortunate writer is then left with a thinner wallet and a garage full of generally unsalable books.

Writer beware.

Questions on Writing #1

I hear from a lot of aspiring writers, asking about careers in writing. One correspondent wrote me recently, expressing a great desire to write and to succeed in publishing, and asking what one might expect to earn as a published writer. Here’s my reply, in part:

I’m glad to hear of your interest in writing, and your willingness to learn. It’s a long, difficult road, but it can offer many rewards.

Few of those rewards are likely to be monetary, though. Yes, some people do well–especially if they are prolific. It helps if you write fast, and well, and have a great many stories to tell. Some writers who do well financially are excellent writers; some are not. I can’t tell you why.

You asked what the least was that I made in a year from writing, so that you’d know what to expect. That’s an easy one. Zero. Nada. Zilch. That’s what you can expect. You can’t be in it for the money. If the money comes, that’s a wonderful bonus. But you can’t bank on it, so to speak. If you do, you are apt to be very, very disappointed. You must be in it because you want to write and have stories to tell, and are willing to work hard to tell them well.

My one piece of advice is to try to put your desire to see your name on the cover of a book way, way to the back of your mind. Everyone feels it, of course, including those who already have their names on the covers of books. But thinking about that will not help you learn to write. And that’s what you have to do–learn to write. There are many, many skills that come together in the craft of writing, including storytelling, grammar, voice, sentence structure, vocabulary, imagination, organization of thought, knowledge of science and society and psychology, life experience, and many other things. Concentrate on all of these things. Expect to spend years practicing, and learning from others. Read books on writing. Join a workshop. Get feedback.

Do these things, and perhaps one year you will fulfill your dream of seeing your name on a book cover and sitting next to a favorite author at a signing. (There’s no guarantee, that’s one of the kickers.) Be fiery and determined, but don’t be too impatient.

Read my further Advice to Aspiring Writers, and consider looking at my writing course on CD, which you’ll see a link to on that page. (It’s out of print, but Amazon had some used copies, last time I looked.)

But…please don’t ask me to read your work. For the reason, see Before You Ask Me to Look at Your Work

Good luck!

Methane Lakes! Four-Pod Lives!

According to the Boston Globe, Titan researchers have concluded that there is methane rain on Titan, and probably are or have been methane lakes. What a wonderful science fictional world that really exists!

In honor of that, and sort of in honor of the 3 hours I spent shoveling snow after the blizzard today (one of the top 10 in Boston weather history, they say), I think I’ll post a little excerpt here of my one fictional venture onto Titan. This is from my novel The Infinity Link, published in 1984 by Bluejay Books, and also by the SF Book Club, and by Tor Books. This is from the prelude to Chapter 18. Meet Four-Pod:

The sound was starting again–the long, low moan that echoed in the back of the consciousness, that evoked memories of a methane glacier during a thaw, shivering and buckling and fragmenting. This was not the time of the thaw, however. And Four-Pod was nowhere near the glaciers.

What, then, was the source of this moan-that-was-like-a-song? It did not sound like the voices of Those-Who-Thought, but who else could make a sound ring inside the consciousness, with nothing to be heard on the outside except the wind and the rain?

Four-Pod could not delay for the truth to be revealed. His destiny lay at the edge of the Snow Plain, where the Philosophers awaited his riddle-offering from the hills. If the offering suited them, he would be made welcome there, and perhaps he could speak with them of this troubling thing. If not, he would be forced to flee, and he would have only the sleet and wind for counsel.

And, perhaps . . . the voice.

Perhaps it would travel with him across the plain, offering companionship and thoughts of warmth.

And perhaps he was wasting time thinking and listening when he should be on the move. He had many lengths yet to cross.

With a forward lurch, Four-Pod shuffled through the billowing snow. Once his claws found traction in the firm methane ice, beneath the snow, he settled into an efficient pattern of movement: grip . . . heave . . . grip . . . heave . . . grip. . . . Occasionally his nails slipped on the ice, and he sailed snout-first into a bank of snow. Each time, he picked himself up patiently, blew the snow out of all six nostrils, and continued as though nothing had happened.

The songs came and went from his thoughts. He shifted his focus to other senses: the fine grains of snow sliding across his silken hide, the rasp of his claws on the ice, the looming and sudden gusting away of shadow-like forms against the ochre sky. Thoughts of hunger tormented him; but he knew from the texture of the ice that he was at least a storm-day’s walk from edible slush. To distract himself from his hunger, he summoned memories and legends.

There were stories that told of times when the world was a sounder and clearer place–when snow lay hard upon the ice, and the sky on occasion grew deep and transparent, revealing miracles. Legends spoke of the round, banded body of Heaven–and of a many-layered arch that vaulted to Heaven and (some said) looped around it to enter Heaven’s back gate. Songs spoke of Heaven’s necklace, and there were those who said that it was in reality the same as the road to Heaven, that the image of a necklace was only an illusion. Others claimed the opposite, that the road was the illusion, that it circled round and round, toying endlessly with the weary, hopeful pilgrim.

It was a fine legend. But legends could ward off hunger for only so long. Four-Pod knew that he must soon find sustenance or starve. As the snow grew grittier and more bitter in his nostrils, he pushed harder, and clawed deeper.

When the song returned this time, it reached somehow deep into his heart and boosted his flagging spirit. He peered and sniffed, tossed his snout and brayed, and plunged forward. Was the song a legend come to life–a call from Heaven? He thought of the great arching road that existed somewhere above the shrouded sky, and he grew dizzy with fear and joy. Could this be a signal? The music of the Heaven Road?

Press on.

Much later the ice changed. He was desperately weak, step following on step. With groggy surprise he recognized the softening of the ice under his claws, a delicious wetness soaking the bottoms of his pods.

The slush pool opened before him, layered and rich. He dropped his snout and drank deeply, filling himself. Afterward he contracted his pods and settled into the snow. The music continued to dance in his thoughts, and lovingly intertwined with his dreams as at last, at long last, he slept.

(Copyright © 1984 Jeffrey A. Carver)

Yo, Titan! The Stuff of Reality and Science Fiction

The landing of the Huygens probe on Titan is one of the cooler things to happen in planetary science in recent years. (See and Astronomy Picture of the Day.)

I suppose that’s true both literally and figuratively — the temperature on the surface of Titan was measured at -179 degrees Celsius (-290 degrees Fahrenheit). And I’ve been shivering here in Boston at a measly 3 degrees Fahrenheit!

I wonder if they’ll find a Lake Carver there. (I was quite flattered when the late Hal Clement created a feature by that name in his hard SF novel, Half Life.) For that matter, I wonder if they’ll find anyone like Four Pod, a mild-mannered Titan creature who appeared briefly in my own novel, The Infinity Link, back in the 1980’s!

I do hope they find some methane lakes. It’s just too exotic an image not to be true.

Opening Round

Welcome to “Pushing a Snake Up a Hill”!

Although I have maintained a web site for a good number of years, this is my first entry into the blogosphere. If you’ve come here from my web site, you already know that I write science fiction and may be familiar with my books. If you stumbled in here by another door, you probably know nothing about me. So please allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Jeff Carver, and I’ve been a working professional writer for not quite thirty years. In that time, I’ve written and had published 14 novels and a number of shorter pieces. Not a huge output by the standards of many of my contemporaries–but then, I’ve always been a slow writer. I like to think that some of my work is pretty good, despite the infrequency of publication. My most recent novel, Eternity’s End, came out a few years ago and was a finalist for the Nebula Award. I’ve been working ever since on the fourth book of a series called The Chaos Chronicles, and have been contending with difficulty in finding enough time to write (while I do other kinds of writing and editing to earn a living), as well as struggling with the book on its own terms. (It feels a little grandiose to say that I’ve had writer’s block, but is probably accurate nonetheless.)

I expect I’ll have more to say on all this in later logs.

The title for my blog comes from an expression my wife and I have been using for years–inspired by the difficulty of moving young children along toward completion of tasks (such as getting to bed!). Our kids are older now, in high school and middle school, but we still use the expression all the time. “Pushing snakes” has become shorthand for any Sisyphus-like chore. And there seem to be way too many of those in daily life!

In the coming days and weeks, I hope to note some of my thoughts on writing, on home-schooling kids, on home repair(!), on science and politics and religion, and whatever comes to mind. Let me know what you find of interest, and we’ll talk.


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