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Incoming quiet period

Blog posts may be patchy for the next month.

I haven't fallen out of love with you or anything, it's just that I have a lot of work on my plate. This week I've been trying to clear a backlog of short non-fiction commissions, not to mention my sinuses (globe-hopping nose/throat bugs: we hates them). Next week I have to start the death march to the end of the first draft of "Rule 34", which currently stands at 87,000 words and is due to be somewhere in the 100-120,000 word range when complete.

Some novels flow easily, and some are a painful slog. This one is one of the latter. One of my quirks is that I usually get the idea for a novel a couple of years before I have time in my schedule to start writing it; consequently, by the time I'm working on it, I've been living with the idea for so long that it's not fun any more — my muse has already moved on to the next project. I've got a dose of this disease right now, and it's painful. Some writers claim that their muse is a delicate thing that whispers softly in their ear and requires careful nurture. Mine — when he's not AWOL, getting drunk and starting bar fights — trained as a US Marine Corps drill instructor. He sits on my shoulder, screaming abuse through a megaphone — "double down and gimme five thousand words, worm!" — and if I don't deliver, he hits me. Unfortunately right now I'm trying to finish "Rule 34" and he's screaming at me to get stuck into "The Apocalypse Codex" — the fourth Laundry book. Which would be highly inadvisable, because I don't have a contract for it yet, and if I write it prematurely it puts my agent in a poor negotiating position. Not to mention annoying my editor at Ace, because we already pushed back the schedule for 419 "Rule 34" by a year, and she wants that particular novel, not a last-minute unexpected substitute.

I'm going to try and cut a deal with my muse; just let me finish the job in hand, and I'll give him what he wants. You never know; it might work ...

38 Comments

1:

You have my sympathies. I have a whole collection of muses, some of whom tend to be voluble (right up to the point where I tell them I'm knee deep in something else and they get all affronted and leave) while the rest of them tend to be shy to the point of elusiveness (and then just as I'm getting them to sit down and tell me something, one of the noisy ones comes in and embarrasses them again, so they clam up even harder). The few who tend to be reasonable see me more as an amanuensis than anything else, and tend to get a bit startled when I point out to them that things like eating, sleeping and travelling on public transport will actually interfere with the all-important business of getting their thoughts down on paper.

Best of luck negotiating with your muse, and maybe taking him out for a beer at the end of things might help a bit.

2:

don't know if you need a muse for writing your phd thesis in physics, but if you do I know why it's slow going for me right now (muse totally absent). When I look in the place where the muse should be, I get the stereotypical tumbleweeds and howling winds.

So, good luck to you, looking forward to a next book to read helps me a bit ..

3:

You know Charlie. We met VERY briefly at Armadillocon in Austin. Just long enough for you to autograph a book. You struck me as a fiercely bright, and somehow impish, fellow with a gleam in his eye that said "boy do I have a lot of ideas that I cant wait to express"

Run on sentences aside.

While I tremendously enjoy your blogging I would give it all up for MORE DAMN FICTION!

Yah I am sure that the incidental blogging may be a way to recharge the batteries but I doubt any of your fans would begrudge you some time away from teh intarwebs if we get some more great prose..

Possibly it is not said much (as I only peruse the comments sporadically) but I think you are a fracking (sorry) incredible writer and look forward to your writing, fiction or :bloggish blathering," and am happy to see less of the latter for more of the former.

I feel incredibly lucky living in an era that allows me the occasional glimpse inside the mind of an admired writer.

So let us all raise a metaphorical glass of [insert favorite beverage here] in appreciation of a man who has brought us so many stimulating words arranged in a plethora of unique and interesting ways.

Thanks Charlie.

4:

Mine — when he's not AWOL, getting drunk
...
I'm going to try and cut a deal with my muse

Sounds like a job for the "Sink the Bismark" beer!

5:

Ah, yes. Due to That Damn Volcano, we have not one, but two bottles of Sink the Bismarck cluttering up our beer mountain.

We're planning a tasting, but first we need to procure a spirit measure that won't dissolve in it, and invite enough friends round to distribute the liver damage evenly.

6:

I'm going to try and cut a deal with my muse; just let me finish the job in hand, and I'll give him what he wants. You never know; it might work ...

When that comes around, will [i]AC[/i] have been in your brain long enough not to be exciting and new, and the next thing screaming to be written? Sounds like a vicious cycle ;)

7:

Can you please post a review of this Sink the Bismarck beer, once you've had a tasting. I can get it here in Amsterdam, but 74 Euro is a lot for one beer. I would love to hear if it is worth it... and if you survived.. 41% - is that legal?

8:

Some novels flow easily, and some are a painful slog. This one is one of the latter.

Do you feel the novels that the writing flows for are "better" in general than the stick-in-the-mud ones, or does it get worked out in post? Which ones did flow, and which were tough to get out?

9:

Do you feel the novels that the writing flows for are "better" in general than the stick-in-the-mud ones, or does it get worked out in post? Which ones did flow, and which were tough to get out?

There is no discernible rhyme nor reason to it (although the easy novels are usually less significant works).

Here's a run-down since I went pro (after "Atrocity Archives" and "Singularity Sky", both written while I had a day job):

Flowed-rapidly novels: The Family Trade/The Hidden Family (as one novel), Glasshouse, The Jennifer Morgue, The Fuller Memorandum. Also, probably, The Apocalypse Codex (I'm having to beat it off with a stick).

Stick-in-the-mud novels: Iron Sunrise, The Clan Corporate, The Merchants War, The Revolution Business, The Trade of Queens, Accelerando[*], Halting State, Saturn's Children, Rule 34.

In general, everything since The Jennifer Morgue (2005) has been harder to write, but I blame a combination of age, blood pressure meds, and settling down to doing it for a living.

But ... it's unquantifiable. "Palimpsest" came out in three weeks flat, and if I'd carried on, it would have been my third-fastest novel. While the later Merchant Princes books were hard labour.


[*] Accelerando took nearly six sodding years. It was so hard to write that midway through chapter 5 I took time out to write the first two Merchant Princes books, because they were easier than finishing the short story.

10:

Your muse and I are in agreement, except I want them both! Of course, "Shut up and wait" is an acceptable answer to give me-- from what you describe, your muse might react... poorly. Anyway, good luck-- I look forward to the results!

11:

A typewriter might be problematic for a metaphysical concept to handle, but had you considered buying your muse a dictaphone?

12:

There seems a constant war to be going on for the "record" beer...

Schorschbräu now upped the ante with a 43% beer:

http://www.benz-weltweit.de/derbraeuvomberch/index_eng.html


13:

Charlie--

I have a similar "muse" problem, writing mathematical research. The fun part is figuring the math out in the first place. Writing it all up is usually a fair amount of work after that. So I'm spending most of my research time on the latest topic, with two or three papers languishing in varying stages of completion.

I don't have a great solution. It's a lot easier to write when one wants to write, and it's easier to go along with that flow. But sometimes you have to push yourself to work on the other projects, or they'll never get done.

14:

Hm. IMHO your flowed-rapidly books are better than the stuck-in-the-mud books. The Revolution Business especially so -- for me, it was all about logistics, rushing, and meeting deadines. On the other hand, Saturn's Children I think is one of your best.

The difficult slog might pay your bills, but the liberated muse will make your reputation. Tough condition, that.

15:

Charlie--after grinding out 29 CIS textbooks, my muse has moved to Florida and retired (lucky bastard ;-).

I am working on number 30 right now (a massive tome about social media marketing), with my publisher breathing down my back. With most of my hair gone (ripped out from late night writing sessions ;-), I am wondering when authors should hang it up. As I recall, Isaac Asimov and Sir Arthur Clark kept it up well past retirement age. But I am neither a knight nor a founding father of science fiction. So, I ask, when is it time to throw in the towel?

16:

When is it time to throw in the towel?

When it stops paying. Alternatively, when you find something that's more fun to do for a living.

I more or less hung up the magazine feature-writing coat when I got my second multi-book deal from the same major US publisher -- at that point, I knew I was onto something repeatable. If I get well and truly bored with SF, I will look for something else to write that's more fun and that pays enough to live off. (NB: I don't consider this to be a very likely outcome -- SF is a very broad church and there's room for me to write in a lot of different modes within it.)

17:

I don't know if I'd say better/worse, but it's interesting to note that generally speaking the stories in the "flowed rapidly" list had a more rapid/urgent pace for me as a reader (the only exception to this would be Iron Sunrise, which was of the "I know I should be getting other stuff done but I can't put this down" sort for at least the last third). Wondering if anyone else feels this way?

18:

Well, two of my favourites of his are in the "flowed rapidly" list -- Glasshouse and The Fuller Memorandum. But I also liked Iron Sunrise and Halting State an awful lot. (I think that HS is his best writing, but I enjoyed Glasshouse more as a book. That's just a matter of which checkboxes are selected, not quality.)

And I would have thought "Palimpsest" took a lot longer to write, because I picture it being written with a physical board with strings and notecards to keep track of the temporal events ;).

So, really, I can't tell from the perspective of a reader.

20:

Well looking at those lists, I definitely preferred the ones that were hard work from him to finish. Therefore I heartily approve of the torturing of Mr Stross as a mechanism to improved quality.

I do wonder if it wouldn't be an idea to specifically write a movie/TV script at some point, with a view to seeing if it would garner any interest. Specifically the near future stuff would seem a good match and the pay can be much higher if someone bites. If its going to be hard work, shouldn't it be lucrative?

21:

A-ha-ha-HA ...

Oh, you guys crack me up!

Writing a TV/movie script on spec, from my position, would be idiotic. Firstly, it's a very different skill set to writing novels -- about as different as switching to epic poetry, or non-fiction. Secondly, it's an even more competitive market. I'd be going from being a highly successful SF author to being a slushpile-level nobody.

The only sane way to do it would be on a commissioned basis, to provide SF input to an existing creative process. Something like what John Scalzi is doing with "Stargate: Universe".

22:

For some reason part of me would love to see a laundry tv series. And good luck with the writing.

23:

Klaus W @ 22

I think it would be wasted on TV. I have this mental picture of Mo playing her violin from on top of the fire truck, and for that scene alone you need _widescreen_.

(On the other hand (with surround sound) it'd probably have the audience fleeing for the exits. This is no bad thing.)

Chris.

24:

Chris, please go easy on the spoilers for not-yet-published books, huh?

25:

Short non-fiction commissions? Will there be links?

26:

Will there be links?

Not unless (a) they appear on the web, and (b) (in at least one case) you can read Japanese.

27:

For some reason I'd expect if you decided to get into the poetry field you'd be writing about events on January 1, 1970.

Y'know... epoch poetry.

(Apologies)

28:

Just had a weird moment of cognitive dissonance
seeing you on the Monbiot high speed train thread
in the Guardian
And for the record having to endure the
Kings Cross to Dundee journey during my
Uni years I would love to see high speed rail
in the UK

Rex

29:

Just had a weird moment of cognitive dissonance
seeing you on the Monbiot high speed train thread

Jesus wept. You'd think, had he read as much DfT documentation as he makes out, he'd be aware that there is, in fact, a spur off HS1 just north of King's Cross that leads onto the ECML, put there precisely in order to provide for a future northern HS2 (and anyway, there's already the Eurostarised stretch of line through Camden Town that lets the Eurostars get to their London depot and the Manchester-Milan freights get from the WCML to HS1).

30:

Alex, having seen Eurostar rolling stock parked in Leeds (at one point GNER were borrowing them to supplement their 125 and 225 rolling stock) this doesn't surprise me.

The key HS2 question is whether it's cheaper to upgrade the ECML or WCML to high speed running, or to build an entirely new line.

But the longer-term question wot I shall blog about in a day or so (today is a bit fraught) is "why do greens like Monbiot -- despite having some important things to say -- piss off everyone else so badly, and is there anything that can be done about it?"

(See my comment re. cognitive biases in CIF on the Grauniad if you want to know where I'm going.)

31:

Firetruck... Highspeed chase... Ok, I see widescreen too now.

32:

Ok, I know these are fan blog comments (and I still haven't figured out why some blogs won't let me use my real name, just my Cheezname, which doesn't help my case either) on the author's website, but I'd be interested a Laundry Tv show and/or film(s) as well.

33:

"There seems a constant war to be going on for the "record" beer..."

Oh, heck, we USAians figured that one out with the boilermaker (assuming that other people didn't invent that about one week after getting ahold of distilled liquor).

34:

But that's a cocktail! Cheat!

35:

Oops! Sorry about that (I thought it was suitably imprecise to count as a spoiler, and it _is_ an image I can't get out of my head.)

As penance I will shut up and tidy the shed. (This is very much worse than it sounds.)

To return to the subject of visual media, "the pictures are always better on radio", and the pictures from the written word are probably best of all because you can reread the text and fill in more detail as the fancy takes you. Sort of the opposite of "a picture is worth a thousand words".

36:

Why would having a completed manuscript put you in a worse negotiating position?

I would have thought that your agent would say "I have here an agreement for a fresh manuscript by Mr Charles Stross, Esq., for what sum shall I bestow it upon thee?" and the publisher would say "But lo, authors are fickle and betimes delay their work," to which your agent would respond "Not Mr Stross, who not only churns out words like a Hessian milkmaid churns butter, but actually completed the manuscript this morning while waiting for his porridge to boil."

At which point the publisher gives your agent a lot of money. Anyway, game theory says that your agent could always lie about it being completed, so you're never *worse* off.

37:

Joe, normally having a manuscript in hand would be good.

However, if the MS in question is book 4 in an ongoing series, you can't threaten to sell it to a different publisher; publishers don't generally pick up books in an existing series (unless they can buy up the rights to the preceding titles at the same time) because their sales of book n can be held to ransom if the publisher of the earlier books decides to play chicken by withdrawing books 1 .. (n-1) from print.

Being able to threaten to take your goods elsewhere is a potent negotiating tool; in this particular situation it's not available.

38:

I second your Marine Corps muse. Get on with the next Laundry book! Hoorah!

Hmmm... I wonder if the Black Chamber pulls candidates from MARSOC.

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 16, 2010 12:24 PM.

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