Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sailing Venus: Verdandi Outpost

I am remiss. It's been some months since I last posted an update on Sailing Venus, and there's really no excuse for that. I have not abandoned the project, although work progresses slowly as usual. My writer's group continues to meet, and provides valuable feedback every few weeks. More importantly, it provides a looming deadline that inspires frantic writing whenever time gets tight. That, possibly more than anything else, has kept me plugging away at this novel despite the myriad interruptions, distractions and setbacks that come my way.

Between you and me, chapters 6 and 7 were real bears to write. Originally envisioned as a single chapter, a good chunk into 6 I realized there was no way I could cram in everything that needed to happen without giving all the events and character moments short shrift. At that point I did what writers do and split the chapter in two. For some reason, twice as many words took me four times as long to write. With 7, in particular, I knew where things ended up, but little of what happened on the intervening pages. That proved to be quite the learning experience for me, and necessitated quite a bit of crash research into the Pyrenees Mountains (I was probably more surprised by that than you are).

With those trouble spots behind me, I'm happy to report that chapter 8 is also complete, with work on chapter 9 begun. I've topped 34,000 words--possibly, but not definitively--the most words I've committed to a single work of fiction since The Broken Balance, a terrible, derivative high fantasy mess that I completed when I was 17 years old. That word count places me beyond the 1/3 mark but not yet at the midpoint of the novel. I've hit two of the big milestones set up in my outline (which I'm already deviating from significantly, but it's still proving useful) with the first big action sequence on the horizon. The next two chapters are clearly defined in my head, and have been generally present as a concept from the earliest glimmerings of this story as a potential novel. It's always nice to make these long-gestating writerly ideas tangible on the page.

As I look at my calendar, I see I have 18 weeks to go before the World Fantasy Convention arrives in San Antonio. That gives me 16 weeks--I have two weeks coming up where I will be traveling and unable to do any meaningful writing--during which to complete roughly 12 chapters. At a glance, that should be do-able if I just hit a chapter a week. But I've been averaging maybe a chapter every two weeks, so that looming deadline is nervous-making. In my defense, I seem to be producing good words on the page. My writer's group members have varying degrees of experience, some being published a lot more than me, others a lot less, but they all have offered valuable insight at various times. The last two meetings, more than one has stated that they're reading my submissions less to offer critique and more to find out what happens next. I'll take that as a win.

Here's a sample from chapter 8. Erica's impulsive, leap-before-you-look nature has gotten her into progressively worsening trouble, but that's barely scratching the surface of what awaits the poor girl. Enjoy.

A confusion of voices assaulted her. Strong hands grabbed her and hauled her up from the floor. Ozone tinged the stale, steamy air. Erica blinked. Several ill-defined figures stood around her, all shouting at once. She blinked again, trying to focus. Wan yellow light streamed in through a row of small portholes. Bunks. The portholes were in open bunks, the privacy doors rolled up. Blankets and personal items lay strewn about.

"My dad," Erica managed at last. "I need to see my dad."

"Who are you?" The speaker stared at her intently, his sagging, sallow face crusted on one side with dried blood, his wiry hair glistening with sweat.

"My god, what's wrong with her skin?" a second voice asked.

Erica realized her tattoos had taken on a linear fractal pattern. In the poor light, it appeared as if maggots swarmed beneath her skin. Annoyed, she turned them off.

"I'm Erica Van Lhin. My father's Geraard Van Lhin, Risk Management Chief Inspector," she said. "He's here with his inspection team. I need to see him. Now!"

The cascade of voices fell silent. The Venusian winds howled mournfully outside.

"Child," said a bald woman gripping a bunk for support, one arm in a sling. "The three of us you see here, we're... we're the only survivors.

"Your father's dead."
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