Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

558. Serial Packaging

Publishing novels serially is a very old idea. Most of Charles Dickens work came out that way.

What I’ve done over the last few years in the blog Serial is a bit different. Dickens novels came out in pieces while he was writing them. Everything in my blog Serial was already finished, then had to be reverse engineered into serial form.

I actually made a brief attempt at writing on the go, although it appeared in A Writing Life while Serial was occupied by another story. It wasn’t for me. If you’re curious how things came out in the experiment, you can go to Mud Prolog, Mud 1, Mud 2,  and Mud 3 to see the results. I have a lot of emotional investment in the novel Mud and some day I will probably return to it, but not as a serial in progress.

When Dickens wrote his serialized novels, the size required for each chunk was known in advance and the chunks were big. David Copperfield, for example, was a novel of 358,551 words. I know this by downloading it from Project Gutenberg, transferring it to my word processor, and using the word count function. You might make note of that; it is a useful technique.

David Copperfield was published in twenty monthly installments. That makes each installment was about 18,000 words. In SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) terms, each installment was of novella length.

My typical serial post has been about 600 to 800 words.

Dickens serialized in order to sell to a market which could not afford books. At the same time, serializing boosted sales of this novels when they came out later in book form. Most successful nineteenth century authors followed the same pattern.

The big names in twentieth century science fiction also wrote serial novels, although they were shorter and presented in fewer but longer installments. In the golden age of SF, serial publication might be the only way to get a novel into print. A few years later, when the paperback revolution came about, those old magazines were mined for their novels.

In my case, nothing but Mud was in progress at the time it was posted. Some of the things presented had been published, some had not, one was presented as a excerpt from a completed novel, and one was a fragment from a novel I’ll probably never finish. Jandrax was annotated to such a degree that it almost forms a writing primer, and How to Build a Culture was entirely a how-to.

Everything I have presented in Serial has been to assure continued readership of the website. It’s a trick. Leave ‘em hanging, and they’ll come back. And the whole website was originally to assure a readership for my then upcoming novel Cyan, and for others that would follow.

That was the plan anyway, but the website quickly became something I valued for itself and man has it been fun.

I’ve enjoyed revisiting old friends. I’ve learned a lot from a close re-reading of old material, especially regarding pacing. Since I posted four days a week, each post had to be relatively short. That kept me from running out of material too soon, and kept each reading experience brief for the sake of the daily reader. I didn’t originally choose the 600 to 800 word length — it just evolved.

The actual process of taking a novel and breaking it into pieces has been a fascinating, frustrating, and rewarding experience. It typically begins with a completed novel, which may be decades old and which will already have been polished to a high shine. Nevertheless, I find a few errors.

The first step is to reduce the novel to individual pages. I use a stationary belt sander to remove the gummed spine. How’s that for getting down to how-to basics? These pages then have to be scanned one at a time with an OCR program (optical character recognition) to make them readable to the word processor. Then I have to find all the thousands of errors that crept in during OCR work. It takes a week, at least.

Now using a word processor version, I have to re-read the novel, looking for natural breaks in the action. I type a non-word at each break. I use breakbreak. Then I can use the find function to jump from break to break.

I then highlight what I have chosen, use the word count function, and type in the number of words. If it seems too short or too long, I adjust.

That takes care of post #1. Now to repeat.

Jandrax required 92 posts. Raven’s Run required 150. Some posts make sense on their own, but some require that I start with a sentence or two from the previous day’s post. I use bold-italic to denote this repeat.

All this takes place on a single word processor file. I then make individual files of each post-to-be. This is a backup to what will actually appear on the website. At this point, I run the spell checker one last time, even though by now I have read each section repeatedly with an eye out for errors.

The last step is copying from word processor file to the website.

Tedious? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. If you don’t enjoy re-reading your own work, why do you write?

If memory is nagging at you, then yes, a very different version of this appeared in a previous post a couple of years ago.

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557. The Things We Read Together

When I began this website in 2015, it was to be in two equal but very different formats. The blog called A Writing Life was mostly  to be in the form of mini-essays, and the blog called Serial was to be a place to showcase my writing. Both halves worked out very well until recently when the well ran dry for Serial.

Here is part of what I said in the first Serial post, August 29, 2015.

Introduction to Serial

Starting September first, this space will be home to serial fiction.

Serial fiction has a long history. Going back at least to Dickens, it has been used to serve the needs of the publisher. How long each serial installment was, how many installments there were, and how long a time fell between each installment was calculated to fill issues of periodicals and bring readers back. For science fiction novelists, serialization has always been a way build an audience before a book is published, and earn a few extra dollars at the same time.

So what’s in it for you?

Free reads, for one thing.

When I first began to consider serial publication in this website, I had a particular kind of reader in mind. I envisioned a train or bus commuter, or a bored backseater in a car pool, surrounded by distractions. (Not a driver. If you’re driving right now, turn off your damned smart phone!) I thought that kind of a reader would appreciate a short presentation, half a satisfying read and half a tease for tomorrow’s installment.

As it turned out, I don’t think very many commuters ever read Serial. From feedback, I think it was read mostly by other bloggers.

Running two blogs on one site renders the results of  the stats provided by WordPress pretty questionable, but as nearly as I can judge about the same number of readers have enjoyed Serial as they have A Writing Life.

When I began to sort each story into episodes, it became apparent that each has a natural rhythm which has to be honored. Some stories have larger blocks of text between natural breaks, and this rhythm varies within each story as well. One size episode does not fit all, but there will still be five episodes each week, of somewhat varying length.

The process of serializing is a complex one, which I will talk about next Monday.

Shortly after each story concludes, it will be permanently archived on the Backfile page. If you prefer to read a story all at once, just wait. That is, if you can avert your eyes from the daily presentation.

Once again, according to stats which don’t seem too reliable, the Backfile page remained largely unread. Too bad, there is a treasure trove of stories there.

Over the years, Serial has allowed me to provide a variety of types of fiction and non-fiction, and some that was a little of both. Jandrax was reprinted there, but not simply as a serialized novel. It was annotated, so that you could look over my shoulder as I told about the writing of it, and admitted to the things that now make me cringe. The novel fragment Voices in the Walls told the story of its writing, explained how it came to remain uncompleted, and gave an outline of what might have been.

To Go Not Gently was the cover story of the a 1978 issue of Galaxy. It was also the original novella form of A Fond Farewell to Dying. The Serial blog rescued it from oblivion.

All good things must end, or at least pause. In September of 2018 I put Serial on hiatus because I had run out of suitable materials. I revived it briefly during Christmas, and may do so again in the future. Stay tuned.

554. Midwinter Midnight

Last night (Dec. 6), I watched a PBS special on the Highwaymen and heard Kris Kristofferson singing Me and Bobby McGee. One familiar line jumped out at me, and I added it to the page of short quotations that opens Like Clockwork.

I’d trade all of my tomorrows
For one single yesterday

That line encapsulates one of the strongest human sentiments, the fear of loss and the nearly insane clinging to that which cannot last.

What would you do if you were given the chance to relive the prime year of your life? Would you take the chance, or would you proceed into the unknown future?

Like Clockwork asks — and answers — that question. It begins and end at midnight on the last/first day of the Only Year.

Here is the Prolog to Like Clockwork. Or is it an epilog? Or something else altogether? You decide.

===================

“Tonight Snap has gone down to the Clock for Midwinter Midnight. In just a few minutes, the reversion will occur and I will forget writing this note. It will be midnight of January first, 1850. Not next year, nor last year, but the only year there is.

It isn’t a bad year and it isn’t a particularly good year, but if it is to be my only year, I want more.”

Pilar laid down her pen and listened, straining to hear the song they always sang at midnight:

The year that ends, but never ends,
That ‘ere again unfolds,
We live that year forever and
We never shall grow old

It was probably her imagination. Surely voices could not be heard over such a distance. She rose to move closer to a window and as she did, the note she had written ceased to be. All her memories of the past twelve months ceased to be. Her body sloughed off a year of age and it was January first of the last-this-next-only year.

Again.

Hiatus Again

So, once again Serial crawls back into its bed for a long winter nap. I plan to keep the blog alive on life support until I need it again. No, make that in suspended animation; after all this is primarily a science fiction site.

Meanwhile, over in A Writing Life there is a post called Links to Christmas which you can use to see past posts about the season.

Merry Christmas

(Or whatever holiday you celebrate.)

A Graveyard Christmas 8

The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton
by Charles Dickens

In eight parts. Click here to begin at the beginning.

So, Gabriel Grub got on his feet as well as he could, for the pain in his back; and, brushing the frost off his coat, put it on, and turned his face towards the town. But he was an altered man, and he could not bear the thought of returning to a place where his repentance would be scoffed at, and his reformation disbelieved. He hesitated for a few moments; and then turned away to wander where he might, and seek his bread elsewhere.

The lantern, the spade, and the wicker bottle were found, that day, in the churchyard. There were a great many speculations about the sexton’s fate, at first, but it was speedily determined that he had been carried away by the goblins; and there were not wanting some very credible witnesses who had distinctly seen him whisked through the air on the back of a chestnut horse blind of one eye, with the hind-quarters of a lion, and the tail of a bear. At length all this was devoutly believed; and the new sexton used to exhibit to the curious, for a trifling emolument, a good-sized piece of the church weathercock which had been accidentally kicked off by the aforesaid horse in his aerial flight, and picked up by himself in the churchyard, a year or two afterwards.

Unfortunately, these stories were somewhat disturbed by the unlooked-for reappearance of Gabriel Grub himself, some ten years afterwards, a ragged, contented, rheumatic old man. He told his story to the clergyman, and also to the mayor; and in course of time it began to be received as a matter of history, in which form it has continued down to this very day. The believers in the weathercock tale, having misplaced their confidence once, were not easily prevailed upon to part with it again, so they looked as wise as they could, shrugged their shoulders, touched their foreheads, and murmured something about Gabriel Grub having drunk all the Hollands, and then fallen asleep on the flat tombstone; and they affected to explain what he supposed he had witnessed in the goblin’s cavern, by saying that he had seen the world, and grown wiser. But this opinion, which was by no means a popular one at any time, gradually died off; and be the matter how it may, as Gabriel Grub was afflicted with rheumatism to the end of his days, this story has at least one moral, if it teach no better one – and that is, that if a man turn sulky and drink by himself at Christmas time, he may make up his mind to be not a bit the better for it: let the spirits be never so good, or let them be even as many degrees beyond proof, as those which Gabriel Grub saw in the goblin’s cavern.

=============

Not bad, I think, but not up to the ending that came seven years later, when Scrooge said:

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

Yeah, that’s more like it.     SL

A Graveyard Christmas 7

The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton
by Charles Dickens

In eight parts. Click here to begin at the beginning.

Many a time the cloud went and came, and many a lesson it taught to Gabriel Grub, who, although his shoulders smarted with pain from the frequent applications of the goblins’ feet thereunto, looked on with an interest that nothing could diminish. He saw that men who worked hard, and earned their scanty bread with lives of labour, were cheerful and happy; and that to the most ignorant, the sweet face of Nature was a never-failing source of cheerfulness and joy. He saw those who had been delicately nurtured, and tenderly brought up, cheerful under privations, and superior to suffering, that would have crushed many of a rougher grain, because they bore within their own bosoms the materials of happiness, contentment, and peace. He saw that women, the tenderest and most fragile of all God’s creatures, were the oftenest superior to sorrow, adversity, and distress; and he saw that it was because they bore, in their own hearts, an inexhaustible well-spring of affection and devotion. Above all, he saw that men like himself, who snarled at the mirth and cheerfulness of others, were the foulest weeds on the fair surface of the earth; and setting all the good of the world against the evil, he came to the conclusion that it was a very decent and respectable sort of world after all. No sooner had he formed it, than the cloud which had closed over the last picture, seemed to settle on his senses, and lull him to repose. One by one, the goblins faded from his sight; and, as the last one disappeared, he sank to sleep.

The day had broken when Gabriel Grub awoke, and found himself lying at full length on the flat gravestone in the churchyard, with the wicker bottle lying empty by his side, and his coat, spade, and lantern, all well whitened by the last night’s frost, scattered on the ground. The stone on which he had first seen the goblin seated, stood bolt upright before him, and the grave at which he had worked, the night before, was not far off. At first, he began to doubt the reality of his adventures, but the acute pain in his shoulders when he attempted to rise, assured him that the kicking of the goblins was certainly not ideal. He was staggered again, by observing no traces of footsteps in the snow on which the goblins had played at leap-frog with the gravestones, but he speedily accounted for this circumstance when he remembered that, being spirits, they would leave no visible impression behind them. So, Gabriel Grub got on his feet as well as he could, for the pain in his back; and, brushing the frost off his coat, put it on, and turned his face towards the town. continued tomorrow

A Graveyard Christmas 6

The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton
by Charles Dickens

In eight parts. Click here to begin at the beginning.

But a change came upon the view, almost imperceptibly. The scene was altered to a small bedroom, where the fairest and youngest child lay dying; the roses had fled from his cheek, and the light from his eye; and even as the sexton looked upon him with an interest he had never felt or known before, he died. His young brothers and sisters crowded round his little bed, and seized his tiny hand, so cold and heavy; but they shrank back from its touch, and looked with awe on his infant face; for calm and tranquil as it was, and sleeping in rest and peace as the beautiful child seemed to be, they saw that he was dead, and they knew that he was an angel looking down upon, and blessing them, from a bright and happy Heaven.

Again the light cloud passed across the picture, and again the subject changed. The father and mother were old and helpless now, and the number of those about them was diminished more than half; but content and cheerfulness sat on every face, and beamed in every eye, as they crowded round the fireside, and told and listened to old stories of earlier and bygone days. Slowly and peacefully, the father sank into the grave, and, soon after, the sharer of all his cares and troubles followed him to a place of rest. The few who yet survived them, kneeled by their tomb, and watered the green turf which covered it with their tears; then rose, and turned away, sadly and mournfully, but not with bitter cries, or despairing lamentations, for they knew that they should one day meet again; and once more they mixed with the busy world, and their content and cheerfulness were restored. The cloud settled upon the picture, and concealed it from the sexton’s view.

“What do you think of THAT?” said the goblin, turning his large face towards Gabriel Grub.

Gabriel murmured out something about its being very pretty, and looked somewhat ashamed, as the goblin bent his fiery eyes upon him.

” You miserable man!” said the goblin, in a tone of excessive contempt. “You!” He appeared disposed to add more, but indignation choked his utterance, so he lifted up one of his very pliable legs, and, flourishing it above his head a little, to insure his aim, administered a good sound kick to Gabriel Grub; immediately after which, all the goblins in waiting crowded round the wretched sexton, and kicked him without mercy, according to the established and invariable custom of courtiers upon earth, who kick whom royalty kicks, and hug whom royalty hugs.

“Show him some more!” said the king of the goblins.

At these words, the cloud was dispelled, and a rich and beautiful landscape was disclosed to view – there is just such another, to this day, within half a mile of the old abbey town. The sun shone from out the clear blue sky, the water sparkled beneath his rays, and the trees looked greener, and the flowers more gay, beneath its cheering influence. The water rippled on with a pleasant sound, the trees rustled in the light wind that murmured among their leaves, the birds sang upon the boughs, and the lark carolled on high her welcome to the morning. Yes, it was morning; the bright, balmy morning of summer; the minutest leaf, the smallest blade of grass, was instinct with life. The ant crept forth to her daily toil, the butterfly fluttered and basked in the warm rays of the sun; myriads of insects spread their transparent wings, and revelled in their brief but happy existence. Man walked forth, elated with the scene; and all was brightness and splendour.

“YOU a miserable man!” said the king of the goblins, in a more contemptuous tone than before. And again the king of the goblins gave his leg a flourish; again it descended on the shoulders of the sexton; and again the attendant goblins imitated the example of their chief. continued tomorow