Whistling Past the Graveyard: Writing Update

A lot of important things going on, which I will ignore. Instead, here’s an update.

Celebrated Monday, the first normal day of the New Year, by spending about 18 hours finding and organizing every bit of fiction I’ve written in the last roughly 5 years. About 82,000 words, or 2 short novels worth. This includes:

  • 31 bits of flash fiction you may have seen on this blog: about 30,000 words, or just under 1,000 words average length.
  • 10 short stories, at 35,000 words, or about 3,500 words each – except only 6 are done or close to done. Those closer to being done average about 5,000 words, but the range is extreme: 12K for the longest, 1.5K for the shortest.
  • A couple novels, not counting the attempt to novelize a set of 7 bits of flash fiction (starting with “It will work“): about 7,000 words, and many thousands more in notes & research.
  • Many thousands of words of ideas, research, backstories, not included in the above.

These numbers do not include the similarly sized scraps and drafts for the two non-fiction education history books I’ve also worked on. I’ll get those organized later. Want to do fiction first.

So, while I was beating myself up about my lack of productivity, over the last 5 years, I was cranking out stuff faster than G.R.R. Martin. The key step, what’s missing: FINISH WHAT YOU START. That’s the 2021 resolution.

I tried to resist the desire to revise/rewrite as I read through them while applying a consistent format and putting them each in its own properly nested file with the corresponding research, backstory, etc. when appropriate. But only a little. Now, I’ve picked a short story near completion and the Novel That Shall Not Be Named and have them open, and have spent another 8-10 hours finishing the first and reassessing the 2nd. Then, as time permits, plan is to just stop being an idiot, finish these things up, get an editor, and start a marketing campaign. I’ve got two novels, one of which is stand alone and the other is the first in a universe of, potentially, a bunch of novels & short stories (a couple of which I’ve already started). I could put together two 35-40K word short story collections out of this. In other words, I’m like 6 months of work away from having 4 books ready to publish.

NOTE: many humble thanks to my beta readers for their generosity. I will eventually get back to you all. The timing, emotionally, turned out to be very bad for me. Life, and all that.

In the meantime, here are some excerpts from the works in progress that I kinda liked. Consider them teasers:

An asteroid wrangler talks to his ships’ AI:

“Sweetheart, I’m going to need your help here.”

“Now Jimmy, you know I’ve got to tell you to cut this one loose. I’m supposed to save your life first, help make you rich second. Money’s no good if you’re dead.”

“Don’t talk like that, sweetheart. I’m a soft-hearted man.”

“Soft headed, is what you mean.”

I’d guess more than half the wranglers, even the gals, name their AI some flavor of Bess, Betty, Betsy and so on, with a few Ettas and Mables and such thrown in. I went with Clarisse. Nice name. Besides, my gal’s name is Betsy, and naming your NavSys AI after your gal don’t seem right.

“So you want me to figure a way to get this rock tamed enough to nudge it into intercept, with no juice in the spider, spinning too fast to grab, and leave enough juice in Hoss here to get you home alive?”

“That about sums it up, sweetheart.”

“Spinning this fast, we can’t tug it. Might damage Hoss, and there be almost no chance we’d get it right.”

“Can’t recall, fix and refuel the spider? Take another shot?” I knew the answer, but had to ask.

“Jimmy, dear, we have maybe a few hours to do anything useful here. Rock’s approaching perihelion, and you won’t live long enough to collect once it’s headed back out, even if we manage to nudge it right.”

I knew all this. “So, whatcha got?” I was getting some stupid ideas myself, and was hoping Clarisse had something better.

“Jimmy, I know that look. You’re planning something stupid.”

After a few years, these NavSys AI’s start to getting personal. But she was right.

“Let’s say we play it like a big fish, put enough drag on the line to slow her down some…”

“Equal and opposite reaction, Jimmy. It’s not just a good idea…”

“It’s the law, I know. So we speed up some as we slow the rock. We could offset that with some with microburns. Pulse the drag, pump the gas…”

Here’s a passage from the NTSNBN, where the matriarch of a powerful family, for nefarious reasons revealed later, has arranged for her younger son and family to board a generation ship:

The younger branch of the Westmont-Tokai clan was one of a number of families who were saying emotional goodbyes on the broad plaza before the launch station at that moment. Each self-consciously gave the others privacy. The moment passed, and soon Tony’s family had settled into hugs and tears, and became just another group saying goodbye. Finally, Charlie returned to the long black private transport in which they had all arrived, accompanied by two very discreet members of family security. A klaxon sounded. Tony, Mena and the girls headed for the Sisyphus.

Tony could not believe his mother had given in. It had gotten out, somehow, that he and his family, against very long odds, had had their application to be colonists accepted. Westmont-Tokai damage control had in a million places and ways muted the outrage. Clearly, Tony’s family was fit, healthy, intelligent. Why should they not have been selected? Why should being wealthy and powerful preclude it? The fingers of Westmont-Tokai reached out through the Common Medium, nudging here, insinuating there, causing certain sources to go selectively dark, until the world seem to collectively forget about the heir to the largest fortune in the solar system somehow getting chosen to leave it. At least, people stopped talking about it.

His mother Taki had made arrangements for Tony, his wife and two daughters to be taken to the Vela aboard a Westmont-Tokai Washi VI, but Tony had successfully pointed out that the entire world was already nearly certain he’d gotten his family aboard by pulling strings, so why remove any remaining doubt by taking a Washi? All the other colonists and any crew not critical for construction were taking regularly scheduled loaders to Hotel Rygugu, and then shuttling over to the Vela as space allowed. Sure, it might be nice for the girls to get on board in a couple days rather than a few weeks. But the optics were bad.

His mother had praised his political acuteness, and allowed that he was correct. He scheduled passage on a loader.

He frowned. She had set this up. No way word gets out unless she allowed it. She had probably been the one to leak the news. After getting her way, as she always did, and banishing him and his wife and girls, she needed to get him involved and invested. She had thrown him a bone.

And he fell for it. Just like that. There were some things about the solar system he would not miss.

Later, Morgan Godshall, which is the name I gave to the elite exobiologist who those of you with scary-obsessives memories might recall from a sample I threw up here as a trial balloon a few years back, takes a lifter up to the staging area for passengers on generation ship, meets the two girls who, unbeknownst to her, are heiresses to the largest fortune and political power in the solar system:

There were no sets of four seats together, so the girls sat catty-corner across an aisle from their parents. Liz sat down in a middle seat next to a tall, pretty young woman who seemed absorbed in something on her reader.

Liz eyed the pretty lady. Morgan shifted uncomfortably, noticed the child in the neighboring seat, and turned quickly back to her reading.

Liz was fascinated. The pretty lady wasn’t like the women inside Westmont-Tokai. At 9, she was already well-coached in how a proper young lady her age should act, but there had not been a lesson on meeting a stranger on a transport. The Westmont-Tokai family didn’t meet strangers on transports, except for maybe mommy and grandpa.

Liz felt a poke in her ribs. “Don’t stare at people,” El stage whispered. Liz turned to face forward and nodded obediently, sat up straighter, then immediately looked back at the pretty lady.

Morgan was looking straight at her! “Hi,” said Liz automatically.

Despite herself, Morgan could not help being amused by the tiny, primly dressed girl in glasses who looked up at her from the adjoining seat. “Hello,” she responded, a slight smile forming at the corner of her mouth.

“Who are you?” Liz demanded. El sighed, but Morgan answered “I am Morgan. What’s your name?”

Liz straightened. “I am Michiko Elizabeth Wes… I am Elizabeth.” Morgan looked up at the girl seated next to Elizabeth. “I am Elanor. You may call me El. My sister is often called Liz.”

“Glad to meet you.” Morgan was charmed despite herself by these curious girls, the one tall, lean, fair and sophisticated, the other small, dark and fighting mightily to contain herself. She gave them a small smile.

“But what do you do?” Liz blurted out. Before Morgan could answer, El calmly said to her sister, “Morgan is a scientist or non-essential technician.”


“She is here without a family, so she could not be just a colonist, as only families were chosen as colonists.” El looked blandly at Morgan. She turned to her sister. “She could not be an essential technician, because all of them are already on board. Therefore, she is either a scientist or a non-essential technician.”

“Very astute, El.” Morgan looked at this curiosity. She had been wildly precocious herself, but that only entailed math and science. To be as socially aware as this child seemed to be took work for Morgan in a way biochemistry did not. This girl was something different. “I am a scientist. So, how about you two?”

“Oh,” for the first time, El smiled. “We’re just colonists.”

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

4 thoughts on “Whistling Past the Graveyard: Writing Update”

  1. Sold!

    Seriously, I had no idea. Somehow, I got the idea you were writing g thoughtful, real-people fiction. Like Flannery O’Connor: no ninjas, no generation ships…

    Good on you of course, but I have to read enough Human Drama for work (with bonus tween angst). For fun, I want interplanetary intrigue, preferably with guns.

    And there you are making the good stuff, with bells on. I very much look forward to purchasing it!

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