theferrett: (Meazel)

“Rewriting is writing,” goes the old saying, but so much of writing advice focuses on first drafts.  I don’t think there’s nearly enough discussion on how to get from first to final draft… And yet that process is critical for most professional writers.

I once asked my Clarion teacher, Neil Gaiman, how close he came on the first draft.  “I’d say 95% there,” he answered, and my heart stopped.  Seeing the stricken look on my face as I realized he tossed off 95% of award-winning stories the first draft, he quickly added, “Oh, no, Ferrett!  That five percent takes all the time.  It is, as Mark Twain says, the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Inspired by Jake Kerr’s post on his herculean efforts to get the science right in his own Nebula novelette “The Old Equations,” I’m presenting the first draft of my Nebula-nominated novelette “Sauerkraut Station” as a Word document, with sixty-plus comments explaining what was changed, and why.  After writing this, I finished one more draft before presenting it to my online writing group, The Wind-Tossed Coalition, who gave me much useful feedback.  I wrote two more drafts, taking about three months between rewritings, and then gave it to my real-life writing group, the Cajun Sushi Hamsters — which was the big test, since the group includes Geoff Landis, who is a NASA scientist who would doubtlessly call me on my bullshit science.  (Which he did.  I even listened to some of it.)

Since the Hamsters gave it a thumbs-up on the whole, I did a final draft, at which point it had ballooned to 20,000 words.  I then 10% Solutioned it down savagely to 17,000 words and started sending it around.

Ann Leckie, the editor at Giganotosaurus, bought it and asked for minor changes before publication — mostly around my inaccurate descriptions of sauerkraut (which I actually hate) and the removal of a small scene she considered too melodramatic and out-of-tone for the rest of the novelette. From there, it was straight to publication.

So that’s five drafts from start to finish… And while the bones of the story have remained absolutely the same, the way the scenes have changed in tone and effectiveness are, I think, quite worthwhile for someone looking to separate lightning from lightning bugs.

I’ve added several notes as to why things were changed, to show you some of my thought processes along the way.

I strongly urge you to read the finalized story first at, as I’ll be assuming you’ve read it.  Then download the Word document to compare and contrast.  I’m happy to answer any questions about why things were changed, if there’s an interest; leave a comment here or contact me at

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

It’s that time of year again, where authors everywhere point at their published works and go, “Hey, if you can nominate for the Hugos or the Nebulas, check this out!”  And I’m not sure how much that helps.  I think it’s the stories that matter, and you either remember them at the end of the year or you don’t.

(Besides, I’m told according to some who game the system that if you tell people about your stories after the nomination periods begun, you’ve already screwed up – most people either vote right on Day One or right on Day Final, without much in between.  I’m a Day Final, m’self.  And here I am, three days late.)

That said, there’s also a lot of stories you could have read during the year that maybe have slipped your mind, and so I shall mention the ones I’d like to remind you of.  I’ve linked to them online when they are available – if they’re not, and you’re eligible to nominate, let me know and I’ll send you your very hand-created copy to peruse on the privacy of your own Kindle.

Short Stories:

“Run,” Bakri Says (Asimov’s) – My rather intense story of a girl who must rescue her time-travelling terrorist brother, this is my pick for my best story of the year.  Lois Tilton at Locus (a notoriously tough reviewer) gave it a “Recommended,” and my Christmas squee came when Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell (who wrote “The Family of Blood,” one of my favorite takes on Tennant-Doctor) said that it was a “bit of a masterpiece.” Also, Tangent Online recommended it as one of their “Best of 2011″ stories.

iTime (Redstone SF) – My other time-travelling fiasco story of 2011, this one’s about a socially-inept physics student whose air-headed roommate gets her hands on the first personal time-travelling device.  Tangent Online also recommended it as one of their “Best of 2011″ stories, except they ranked this one even higher.


Sauerkraut Station (Giganotosaurus) – My “Little House on the Prairie in Space” riff, this chronicles the tale of young Lizzie, who’s lived out on remote trading post Sauerkraut Station all of her life, and tells what happens to her once the war started.  I don’t know how many positive reviews this racked up on the trades, but I received more positive emails on this than anything else I published.  So I’ll ask y’all to take a look.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I figure you only have a week or two to purchase the latest Asimov’s before my story disappears from the shelves, so let’s go over the reviews for my time-travelling terrorism story “‘Run,’ Bakri Says”:

Aaron over at Fantastic Reviews Blog made it his “Story Recommendation of the Week,” saying this:

Authors have been writing stories inspired by video games since I first began reading science fiction in the 1970′s, and for far longer than that they’ve been writing fiction to illustrate the dehumanizing effects of war. Yet in “‘Run,’ Bakri Says,” Ferrett Steinmetz manages to do both in an original and powerful way….

Aaron also very kindly contacted me to ask whether he could read my story at work – he has a cool program where periodically, he reads good stories to his co-workers, and he was kind enough to choose mine.  But he won’t be reading it right away. Apparently some hack called “Connie Willis” has agreed to show up in person and read her story.

Hrmph. What does she know about writing?  Anyway….

SFRevu erroneously thinks that the time-travelling loop that Irena is caught in is a videogame, a problem my beta readers had at first, too.  (I though I’d massaged that out. Damn.) They still kindly say, “Don’t think of this just as a game story, it has a real chiller at the end. Steinmetz puts together a perfect little story.”

(And of course, there’s still my “Recommended” review from Lois Tilton, which I’m still geeked over.)

As for Sauerkraut Station,” my Little House On The Prairie in space novella (which you can read for free), Lois Tilton at Locus declined to give it a recommended review but said:

There are a lot of cold equations here, and hard choices: a Cautionary Tale about the idiocy of wars. But primarily it’s a coming-of-age story, and a positive one.

The phenomenal C.S.E. Cooney said, “It has that beautiful barbed quality. You like the protagonist so much you want to crawl right into her skin. And then stuff happens. And you can’t get out. And when the story ends, you emerge shaking…. Made my lunch afterward, muttering to myself, ‘Why do I even bother when there are such people writing?’” Which is funny, because I’ve said that about her. So yay for backscratching!

Asakiyume said, kindly, “This story feels so real, it’s hard to believe that Sauerkraut Station isn’t out there, somewhere. It’s a long story, but every moment is wonderful.”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If you are a writer who goes to conventions, you will rapidly ascertain that there is very little correlation between how much you like someone and how much you like their work.  This gets awkward when you find someone who you adore personally, but whose fiction you cannot stand.

Steven Gould, author of Jumper, is one of the nicest guys in sci-fi cons – quietly witty, fun to talk to, perfectly willing to apologize for the wretched movie based upon his book, which he had nothing to do with.  Which is why it’s such an extra-special triumph to report that his latest novel, 7th Sigma, is as fine as his company.

The pitch for 7th Sigma is nothing like the book itself, which is good.  The pitch, designed to get you through the door, is, “Welcome to the territory. Leave your metal behind, all of it. The bugs will eat it, and they’ll go right through you to get it… Don’t carry it, don’t wear it, and for god’s sake don’t come here if you’ve got a pacemaker.”  Which makes it sound like this book is all about battling the ferocious metal-eating piranha bugs that bore through human flesh – a good hook to grab teenaged boys.

But no.  The bugs are simply an excuse to transplant modern sensibilities and knowledge into a frontier lifestyle – what would it be like if we had to live with our medical knowledge and technology, but in a world without computers and construction equipment?  This isn’t a slam-bang action adventure, but rather a series of well-told incidents that outline the cleverness and compassion with which humanity survives in a world made new.  The cleverness inherent in the worldbuilding is filled with the kind of down-home, reassuring solutions that make you go, “No matter how bad things get, we’ll find a way to get by.”

Gould wisely avoids turning 7th Sigma into a Little House on the Prairie Clone by having the lead character Kimble, a young teenaged boy running away from his father, take up a job on an apprentice dojo.  As such, there are many localized lessons on Buddhism and martial arts philosophy from his teacher Ruth, all laced in with the endless chores one has to do to stay alive.  Kimble is a smart kid, sympathetic and brave, and as he learns how to fight, he learns when to fight, and eventually gets caught up in trying to remove the drug dealers and pimps that are making life worse in the territories.

The absolutely brilliant thing about 7th Sigma is that it wisely avoids any semblance of plot.  Which is to say that part of my love of 7th Sigma comes from its sleepy rhythm; each chapter is a parable, mostly self-contained, and it would have been all too easy to knit it into a big slam-bang freight train of a plot that would have moved the story along but lost most of its charm.  No, like All Things Great and Small, each chapter’s an anecdote of Kimble having a mini-adventure, and there are themes that overlap and amplify to provide a sense of movements, but there’s no point at which the Great Bug-Generator is found and everyone must take up arms to defeat the boss monster before it explodes and destroys the world.  This is all intensely personal, at a low level.

(Not to toot my own horn too much, but if you liked the day-to-day rhythm of my Little House-inspired space station novella “Sauerkraut Station,” which came out last week, I almost guarantee you’ll love 7th Sigma.)

The only real ding about 7th Sigma is that it ends with a lot of questions unanswered – not personal questions, since Kimble’s personal journey is wrapped up, but this book is clearly sequel-bait in the sense that hey, you know those crazy metal-bugs, there’s clearly more to tell.  And that’s fine.  When a book’s this good, I don’t begrudge the sequel-baitness of it, but rather look at it as the first salvo in a series of tales I’m quite anxious to hear the rest of.

In the meantime, I’ll just say that 7th Sigma has been responsible for a lot of hot water usage around here, as I devoured a quarter of it at a time in the bathtub, then handed it off to my wife for her bath.  We’re wrinkled, but happy.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The good news is, I sold the audio rights for my story “A Window, Clear As A Mirror” to PodCastle.  This is awesome, because a) if you’ll recall, it’s my favorite story ever, and b) PodCastle did such a great job on my story “As Below, So Above” I that I can’t wait to see what they do with the more-humorous-but-more-melancholy tone of “Window.”

But their choice of narrator threw me. I wanted a woman to read this; they said it should be a male.

Which is odd, because to me, “A Window” reads very clearly as a female story, even though the lead character is a male.  In fact, when I read it, I read it in a woman’s voice – I have a high voice to begin with, and I spent years working at a receptionist agency where the patients yelled less if you presented as female, so I have a very good female voice.  And both times I’ve read it, I find my vocal tones rising, me adopting a female slant.

Whereas Dave then told me that if I ever sold “‘Run,’ Bakri Says,” then that would need a female narrator.  And to me, “Bakri” reads so strongly as masculine that I can’t envision what it would sound like with a woman’s voice reading it… Even though the protagonist is a teenaged girl.

I dunno.  On the one hand, he has a point about readers expecting a male protagonist to be read by a male voice, and considering that he’s co-editing an insanely great podcast, I defer to his experience about creating an awesome production. Yet on the other hand, I think about how Neil Gaiman said that he wrote gendered stories; American Gods is a boy book, whereas Stardust is a girl book.  And to me, “Bakri” is a boy story, and “Window” is a girl story, and having opposite-gendered readers feels vaguely like indulging in transgenderism.  (Which is not a bad thing – as noted, I love dressing in high heels and stockings – but it is a little odd at first.)

Gini pointed out that perhaps I was being stereotypical – “Window” is a girl-story because the lead character is dissecting a broken romance, and “Bakri” is a military, “let’s-solve-this-problem” kinda tale.  And there’s an element of that in there, even as “Sauerkraut Station” – which is at least ostensibly about a war – is extremely feminine (though that could be because the inspiration that story is derived wholly from “Little House On The Prairie”).  “iTime,” a problem-solver story if ever there was one, is feminine, whereas “The Backdated Romance” is masculine.  “Camera Obscured” is feminine, “My Father’s Wounds” is masculine.

(On a side note, you know how awesome it is to have so many published stories that I can link to them like this? It’s totally awesome.)

I don’t know. In my head, there’s some trigger where a story is female or male, and it has little to do with the protagonist.  Nor is it necessarily that the story is about problem-solving or relationships, although it does stereotypically tilt slightly that way.  It’s just that to me, certain stories are boy stories and others are girl stories – neither better nor worse, but just flavored in a way that I’ve been drawing this distinction all along, and it only comes up now that I see my girl story putting on a mustache and Don Draper’s suit.

I dunno.  If you write, are your stories gendered at all?  If you read, or have at least read some of the stories here, do you think of them as boy or girl stories now that your attention is drawn to it?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I bet you’ve been wondering what it would be like if Ferrett wrote a version of “Little House on the Prairie” set in space. I wouldn’t blame you.  After all, I did, so much so that I actually had to write the story.

In any case, what emerged was a long-ass story, and I think it’s the closest I’ve ever come to writing what I’d call “comfort reading.”  Lizzie’s life out on Sauerkraut Station isn’t comfortable, but there’s something about the rhythm of her existence that just made me read this one over and over again.  I like it.  I hope you do, too.

“The sauerkraut is what makes us special,” Lizzie explained as she opened up the plastic door to show Themba the hydroponic units.  She scooped a pale green head of cabbage from the moist sand and placed it gently into Themba’s cupped hands.

She held her breath as Themba cradled it in his palm, hoping: Please.  Please don’t tell me that stuff grows everywhere at home.

Themba ran a dark brown finger along the cabbage’s veins, then let loose a sigh of wonder.  “That’s marvelous,” he said.

Lizzie puffed out her chest.  Themba had passed her final test.  At ten years old, Themba was two years younger, six inches shorter, and eight shades darker than Lizzie was, and she’d known him for a record three days and nine hours.  That made him her best friend ever.

It’s available at Giganotosaurus, and is not only available in regular web page format, but in ePub format for those of you who wish to download and devour at leisure later.  (And I wouldn’t blame you – as a novella, this story takes a while to digest.)

In any case, it’s a departure from my usual writings, if I can be said to have usual writings.  Go take a look, kick the tires, lemme know what you think.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.


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