My Application to Amtrak Is In

Well, I did it. I applied for Amtrak’s writer residency program, #AMTRAKRESIDENCY. I just read that they’ve already received 8000 applications in the few days the program has been open.

The program is not without controversy, to say the least. The terms of application give Amtrak wide latitude to use material submitted to them, at their own discretion, more or less forever. The best discussion of this is probably on the always excellent Writers Beware, which offers some simple suggestions to Amtrak on how to take the sour taste out of the program.

I am in total sympathy with those who think Amtrak’s terms are over the top, probably due to a lawyer who got carried away. They have indicated that they are listening to feedback from writers, and I hope they amend their terms. For my own application, I included a brief excerpt from the beginning of Neptune Crossing—which has already been published, is widely available for free (by my choice), and which I warmly encourage Amtrak to publicize on my behalf. The size of the excerpt pretty much amounts to Fair Use in copyright terms, anyway. If you’re a writer and you’re considering applying, think carefully about those conditions and what you put up.

So yes, Amtrak, I was willing to work with those terms for my own application. But for others, who might have shorter works to offer, or unpublished works, I understand the consternation. I urge you to reconsider the terms. See Writer Beware for simple, common sense ways to do that. In the meantime, I hope you consider my application favorably. I’d really like a nice, long train ride to help me work on my book!

The Reefs of Writing — Scrivener?

I’ve been poring over the first draft of The Reefs of Time and taking copious notes on what I need to change as I rewrite it. To my surprise, I found more places that seem to call for further development than places that need extensive cutting. (There’s always a need for cutting and tightening; that goes without saying. But I’m talking about the light-saber approach that’s sometimes needed to excise long, rambling detours. I didn’t find too many of those.) That’s both good news and bad news. The good part is, the first draft is better than I expected. The bad part is—well, remember the picture I showed you of the first draft? The second draft could be longer.

Not what I expected.

To deal with the complexity of the book—I wrote several different subplots as standalone documents, figuring I would figure out how to braid them together later—I have decided to give Scrivener a try. Scrivener is a writing tool designed especially for people like fiction writers, with all sorts of organizational features, including the ability to easily move sections around, as well as keeping notes and research materials at your fingertips. That seems like just what I need. It offers many things that Word does not. Unfortunately, it also lacks a few of Word’s features that I use all the time, such as support for paragraph styles and keyboard macros. An uneasy tradeoff.

I’ve spent much of the last two days with the trial version of Scrivener, loading all my different documents and notes into it, and slicing the book into chapters for easy manipulation. My current plan is do the heavy rewriting in this environment, and then port it back into Word for the final polish. That’s what some of my colleagues do, and it seems to work well for them. (Here’s one such report, from Charles Stross.)

This is all subject to change, as I test things out. Stay tuned.

Writing on a Train? Yes, please!

I love trains, and always have. When I was a kid, growing up in Huron, Ohio, I lived maybe half a mile from the New York Central main line (now Amtrak’s) between New York and Chicago. Sometimes we would get ice cream cones and go down to the tracks at about 9 p.m. Nighttime trains were always the best. If they were running on time, we’d get to watch two great eastbound passenger trains—the Pacemaker and the Twentieth Century Limited—fly past about ten minutes apart.

The show opened in stages in the darkness. We’d peer to our left, where the double tracks disappeared around a curve bending toward the Lake Erie shoreline. The first sign was a quiet singing of the rails, and the extended glow of the headlight beam, shining into the distant curve. An instant later, the crossing flashers lit up on three grade crossings in a row. Then the headlight and the train itself came around the bend, with the first long blast on the horn in the soulful sequence of Lonnng Lonnng Short Lonnnnnnnnnnng!

Even in the distance, those streamlined E-unit locomotives radiated nothing but power, as if they were born to fly. The track was a little wavy, and the headlights bobbed up and down as the thing bore down on us, threatening to leap off the track, and finally roared through the crossing with the final cry of the horn dopplering down in pitch as it passed at 70 or 80 miles per hour. Right behind came the long string of lit-up passenger cars, full of people bound for mysterious destinations. I always wondered where they were going, and why; and I longed to go, too. The last car was a rounded observation car, and I imagined sitting in comfort, watching the dark landscape reel away behind me. When that trailing car disappeared to the east, we would turn and wait for the next train, close on its heels.

http://cruiselinehistory.com/

I never rode the Twentieth Century, to my regret. I did once ride the Pacemaker with my dad, and it was great. Funny, though, that wondering mystery goes away when you’re on the inside of the train, to be replaced with other kinds of excitement and intrigue.

It’s been years since I’ve ridden a long-distance train just for the fun of it. But I hope that will change, when Amtrak accepts me (I hope!) into their just announced writers residency program! Yes, spurred by a wish expressed by a writer on Twitter, Amtrak has decided to offer free or low-cost long-distance train rides to selected writers—so they can get away and pursue their muse while riding the rails! All they want in return is for the writers to tweet or blog about their experiences. They’ll be opening to applications soon.

You can bet I’m applying. Wish me luck!

Meanwhile, I’ll just pretend I’m Cary Grant for a day

The Untangling of Plot Threads

In his latest blog post, Richard Bowker describes how a serene evening beside the fire with the writing group leads to unexpected plot complications. It’s all true; I was there. In fact, I might have been the person whose little comment led to the problem. (Oops.)

The same thing happens to me all the time. In my previous post, I showed you what the manuscript of my new first draft looks like. Picture about a third of the way into that stack of pages. That’s where an important plot event happens. Will have happened, after I rewrite it. The problem is, I was about three quarters of the way through the book before I realized that little detail. (Oops.) That’s going to change a few things, isn’t it?

Yah. Sorry ’bout that (I say to myself). Sometimes I think it’s a wonder these books ever get finished.

The Reefs of Time—a Complete First Draft!

Great news! I’ve met my do-or-die goal of having the first draft of The Reefs of Time finished before Christmas Eve! Last night at around 3 a.m., I typed the fateful words:

To be continued in Book Six of The Chaos Chronicles

and heaved an enormous sigh of relief. Because that, of course, is another way of saying, The End! What a feeling. I’ve been working on this thing for a little over five years, and it’s just about caused me to lose all my remaining hair. But I feel really good about what I’ve got now (as a first draft!), and eagerly look forward to starting the rewrite in the new year. It’s a sprawling, complicated story, and I know there are pieces missing, and a lot of other sections that will be mercilessly cut, and a lot to be completely reworked. But that’s all stuff I know how to do. It was getting the basic story down that threatened to send me around the bend. For those who are counting, it’s just over 900 pages in manuscript, or somewhere around 220,000 words. (I think my writing group had a poll going on the final length, but I don’t know if anyone remembers who bet what.)

I hope my agent and publisher will be glad to hear this, as well! They’ve been incredibly patient, and all I can say is, If I could have done it faster, I would have.

Even a crashed car isn’t going to take this good feeling away.

Thank you, God, and thank you, everyone who has been waiting and periodically nudging.I think I’m going to enjoy a really good beer tonight, and focus on getting ready for Christmas.

The Avengers meets The Hunger Games!

That’s The Reefs of Time, all right! Thrilling action, endearing characters, lively wit, and heart-rending trials. Plus, the whole galaxy at stake. 

Okay, I lied a little. The book will have all those things, but it bears no resemblance whatever to either The Avengers or The Hunger Games. (Both of which I liked, by the way.)

I am so close to finishing the first draft of this sprawling adventure that it is my hope and prayer that I will finish the first draft before Christmas. Actually, before Christmas Eve. The first draft. I have another chapter, maybe two, to write. Pray for me!

Why am I telling you about it now, instead of just doing it? Partly as a warmup. And because I want to put it out there that this is what I’m aiming for—like President Kennedy, calling for a moon landing before the decade (1960s) was out. And because so many of you, from time to time, gently ask me how the book is going, and will you have a chance to read it while you’re still alive. Here’s my answer: Yes!

Also, I just like to say, “The Avengers meets The Hunger Games.”

Stay tuned.

Give to Charity, Get a Story!

My colleague Laura Anne Gilman, a fellow member of Book View Café, has made an interesting offer: Give to a local food bank, send her a pic of proof, and she’ll write a short story to put up for free on her website! If she gets enough, she’ll write a novella. She can do it, too. (I would not make such a bold offer, myself.)

So, go ahead. You’re probably going to give to charity anyway, this season. Why not encourage Laura Anne to write a story while you’re at it?

Details here: http://www.lauraannegilman.net/this-thing-i-do/

Off to Do Some Writing

By the time this posts, Lord willing, I’ll be on Cape Cod beginning another writing retreat. Among the things I like about the Cape, besides the chance to leave daily cares behind and focus on my book, are the great seafood, local micro-brews, and wonderful bike paths for exercise, fresh air, and positive reinforcement for making progress, whether it’s getting words on the page or thinking through some stubborn plot or character problem. This time I’m taking rollerblades and my recumbent bike. I hope to have good things to report, a few days down the line.

The Novelist

posted in: quirky, writing | 0

No, not me, the video game! Mediabistro reports on a new game featuring as its hero… a novelist. What? On vacation with his family, the writer must make choices about where his priorities lie: His languishing book? His wife? His son? Will he write a great book, and lose his marriage? What about his kid? Damn, doesn’t that send shivers down your spine?

I wish I could play this game at home. Oh wait—I do!

Here’s the video trailer for the game written by Kent Hudson.

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