Early morning writing

I’ve known for a long time that writing every day is very helpful to my productivity. In the past couple of days, I’ve been reminded that, at least for my fiction writing, it’s also very important to start early in the day.

I’ve always found this a little hard. It’s tough to get going on fiction, even if I’ve got an outline, or have left off writing at a ragged edge where I know just what needs to come next. Faced with that—or, especially, faced with a blank page—it’s very easy to fritter away a few minutes (or a few hours).

Over the past couple of days, I have started early, and have rediscovered a bit of magic: Once I get my brain back into the story space, it solves problems wonderfully well—even when I’m not writing. While I make a mug of tea, I’ll realize that a scene with a phone call should be redrafted as a face-to-face meeting. In the time it takes me to walk to lunch and back, I’ll figure out that two cardboard characters can be combined into one three-dimensional character. As I shower, I’ll figure out how to replace a dull scene with a one-sentence lead-in to the next scene. (But only if I take my shower after the first writing session of the morning.)

This happens all the time, and if I don’t get started writing until late in the day, it becomes a source of frustration. The ideas will start coming, and I’ll still be fresh and anxious to start working on them—but I’ll be out of time. It’ll be evening. I’ll want to spend time with Jackie, doing something together.

So, a reminder to me: If I’m writing fiction, I want to start early. It’s more productive and more fun.

Public art in Chrysler’s Detroit ad

As a big fan of public art, I was particularly impressed with the fragments of public art featured in Chrysler’s “imported from Detroit” Superbowl ad:

There’s a lot to like here. There’s a lot of art deco, and I like art deco. There’s a lot of different kinds of art—murals, sculpture, architecture. And the spot features the sort of public spaces that are being phased out these days (in favor of commercial spaces that are technically only open to customers). The public square is important, and neither the mall nor the parking lot of a strip malls is an adequate substitute.

Anyway, one of the good things about public art on display in public places is that it’s available for use in spots like this. It’s part of our culture.

Legend of a beauty

Marjorie Boulton
Marjarie Boulton in Berlin at the 1999 Universala Kongreso de Esperanto

For our Esperanto group’s discussion circle yesterday, we read a story by Marjorie Boulton from her book Faktoj kaj Fantazioj.

A father, wanting the best husband for his daughter, announces that she has died and requests money for her funeral. Two of the suiters decline, but one opens his purse and hurries to the father to grieve with him. Then the father reveals that it is a ruse and the couple is married.

I found it a odd and disturbing story.

So, I wrote my own version, with what I consider a more likely ending, and shared it with the other members of the Esperanto group. I also sent it to my brother to include with a group of similar little tales that we’ve written (Legends of the Zne Master).

I call it “Legend of a Beauty.” Steve posted it as “The Thrifty Father” and provides an English translation at the bottom of the page.

My favorite holiday: Groundhog’s Day

I’m a latecomer to Groundhog’s Day fandom. I blame my second-grade teacher. She told us about the holiday, but who somehow failed to get through to me that it’s a joke.

That unfortunate early experience aside, the cross-quarter date is important to me. Just like Halloween marks the time when I tend to start worrying about the approaching dark days of winter, Groundhog’s Day is when I start to feel like the worst is past.

That wasn’t always true. I used to think that February was the worst part of winter. It always felt bitterly unfair that I’d (somehow) make it through January, only to have to confront another whole month of winter—with no guarantee of relief in March either. (We often get mild weather starting in late March, but it’s also entirely possible to get a whole winter’s worth of snow in the first few weeks of spring.)

But the sun follows a more rigid schedule. The days will get longer—and at an increasingly rapid pace over the next few weeks. And, despite the idiosyncrasies of the weather in any particular year, the longer days will lead to warmer days. It would take a volcano to make it otherwise.

So, I’m a fan of Groundhog’s Day and its promise of spring—whether early or on its regular schedule.

Like a Hawk in its Gyre

“Like a Hawk in its Gyre” is up at Redstone Science Fiction, issue #9, February 2011, edited by Michael Ray.

Cover of Redstone Science Fiction, February 2001 (issue #9)Like a Hawk in its Gyre” is up at Redstone Science Fiction, February 2011 (issue #9), edited by Michael Ray.

The bicycle noticed someone was following before Kurt did.  Watching for a tail was a habit he’d finally broken himself of, but not before the bicycle’s impressionable brain had picked it up.  Its low warning hum sent a thrill of adrenalin through him, giving power to the part of his brain that wanted him to sprint away.

Update: “Like a Hawk in its Gyre” has been reprinted in audio form on Escape Pod, read aloud by Tim Crist.

Would we lose internet service if there were riots?

All the smart folks on twitter have been asking questions along this line. If we had civil unrest, would the government try to cut off our internet access? (I have no doubt that if they tried, they’d succeed. Internet and cell phone providers are regulated companies; they’d roll over in two seconds.)

I think that would be bad.

First of all, it would be unconstitutional. At a minimum, such an action would infringe several first amendment freedoms: speech, press, assembly, and to petition the government.

More important, in a stable democracy like the US, I think internet and cellular service would be at least as much a stabilizing force as it would be a destabilizing force. In the event of civil unrest there would be many powerful voices calling for calm and for non-violence. Shutting off the internet would silence those voices along with the voices of those trying to organize protests.

So, I just sent this note to my congressman, urging him to take steps to protect citizens’ access to telecommunications services:

Prompted by the recent news that the Egyptian government cut off internet and cell phone connectivity for its citizens, it occurred to me that this tool of repression should not be available in the United States.

At a minimum, I urge you to oppose any legislation along the lines of last year’s “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act,” but I think you should go further.

I’d very much like to see legislation that would specifically bar the government from shutting down internet or cellular connectivity for US citizens, and that would bar telecommunication providers from “voluntarily” complying with “requests” from the government that they stop providing connectivity to persons in the US.

Of course, legal solutions only go so far. They would be much strengthened by technological solutions. Cell phones and internet access points can be designed to mesh with other nearby devices. That would make it vastly more difficult for a top-down order to shut down connectivity—hopefully, difficult enough that governments wouldn’t even try.

[Updated 30 January 2011: Here’s a list of ad-hoc meshing protocols that might serve as a basis for making a top-down shutdown impossible.]

News on upcoming stories

The good folks at Redstone let me know that my story, “Like a Hawk in its Gyre,” will be in the February issue, which should be up in a very few days. They’ve got the publicity machinery rolling, with both a twitter mention and a facebook mention. I also got email saying that they’d sent off payment for the story.

In other news, I got the contract from Asimov’s for the story they’re buying. No word on which issue my story might be in, but Asimov’s pays on acceptance, so they said to expect the money from them in 4–6 weeks.

Tuesday evening was the incognito writers group meeting—fun as always, plus I got good critiques on my most recently completed story.

Now, of course, I’m at work on my next story.