Well, not really moving, because I should still be posting here, and who knows, maybe even selling books through this website? But I’ve decided to serial-publish my two draft novels on Substack, starting (I hope!) in the next couple of months. If everything goes according to plan, they’ll also be available as ebooks and print books, so you’ll have your options. But in the meantime, I’d truly appreciate it if you followed me over there (i.e., sign up for a free subscription). You can see what I’m posting and sign up here. (So far just notes, not any actual posts yet.)
What you can expect: Once I begin publishing chapters from Ada’s Children, the first three chapters will be free, then if you want to read the rest it will be $5/month. It will probably take about four months to publish all of Ada at a rate of two chapters each week. So the ebook would be cheaper. Don’t know yet what the print version would cost, so I can’t give a comparison there. I’ve found that it’s very easy to start and stop paid subscriptions, so you don’t need to worry about getting roped into something and not being able to turn it off.
I’ll also be publishing various free pieces about my writing process and the background to the novels (similar to what you’ve seen me post here). If there’s interest, I might do a free how-to series, something like Fiction 101. Not sure whether that part would be paid or not.
(I know, I know! Another platform! But many of you may already subscribe to Heather Cox Richardson or other journalists on Substack. I think you can turn off email alerts and stuff like that.)
Thanks, and looking forward to seeing some of you over at Substack!
Time for news and updates, since I seem to post here about once a year.
So what’s happened over the course of this past year? It all seems a blur, for some reason. Spent a lot of time indoors. Worked on some writing. Tried to keep my body moving, which helps keep my mental outlook positive.
Let’s see, what else? A national election saw some semblance of normalcy restored to politics — not great, but a significant improvement over the former administration. The murder of George Floyd sparked a nation-wide protest movement, and maaaybe there’s been some movement toward racial justice? At least Derek Chauvin was found guilty. But it seems there’s as much or more racial division than before, with the right wing making the astounding claim that speaking out against bigotry is itself bigotry (a sentiment echoed by two Supreme Court justices in remarks about marriage equality).
Hmm, something else must have happened. Oh yeah, 600,000 of our fellow citizens died in a pandemic (nearly four million worldwide), with the country just as divided on how to respond to COVID-19, and even on its significance — “it’s just the flu!” — as on any other issue.
Really wracking my brain here. Wait, I got it! The US Capitol came under the most serious attack since the War of 1812, instigated by the same type of group that I covered in my last post. That was the physical attack on our democracy, but the procedural one continues in state houses to this day, and it stands some chance of successfully installing the Trump-publican party as the one party ruling the country for the foreseeable future.
Really, that has to be all. But wait… how could I forget? A Trump-loving, regulation-flouting owner of two dams upstream of Midland resisted repeated demands to make needed safety improvements. So when the region faced just the kind of heavy rains climate scientists have been warning about for years, the dams gave way, causing record flooding in Sanford and Midland, the town we’d just moved to a few months before, and threatening a chemical plant owned by Dow, one of the world’s largest companies.
So yeah, just sort of your standard year on both the local and the national level.
On a personal level, it was extremely disorienting watching all these dramatic events and not really being affected by them. Despite performances and exhibits coming to a halt due to COVID, Diane was able to keep doing her job for Midland Center for the Arts, although from home, thanks to some of those big government grants and loans you probably heard about. I just kept doing my usual house-husband/writer thing. We’d been renting a townhome in Midland while looking for a permanent place to live, but paused our search due to pandemic-related job uncertainty, but then a house became available in a perfect neighborhood for us (close to downtown, the river parks, and the bike path, but high enough that the flood didn’t touch it), and we jumped at it. Probably not the wisest move we’ve ever made, but it worked out.
The flood was probably the thing that affected us the most. I even missed it because I was in East Lansing working on the house our adult children were living in, getting it ready for sale. So I was cleaning and painting down there while Diane was here mucking out mud and water from MCTA’s history center. The offices in the performing arts space are still without power while the FEMA process drags on, so she’s had to work from home even longer than expected. That was nice for me, but not so nice for her, since she likes to be around her co-workers and hates Zoom meetings. It also means she hasn’t been able to get plugged into the community around the Center the way she would have without COVID.
Myself, I’m a hermit of a writer, so I like to think the forced isolation didn’t affect me much, although every time I do get out in public now, I invariably yak someone’s head off, the way I used to do after solo backpacking trips.
So now as things return to some semblance of normalcy, for half the country at least, it just seems so strange to have survived it all relatively unscathed. It just goes to show what privileged lives we lead.
So how did I occupy myself during the fifteen months of the shutdown? Did I write a great play a la Shakespeare or come up with a new law of physics a la Newton? Well, I did write a 140,000-word novel.
Funny story, that. I was supposed to be revising and selling Ada’s Children. Ten or so pitches to agents had yielded nothing, so I contracted with a professional editor and former agent to critique my first two chapters and my agent query letter. His comments were helpful, but they came in on November 3 (Election Day, strangely). But what had started on November 1? National Novel Writing Month, of course. Usually I choose to NaNoWriNot, but this year I had an idea going into it and thought, why not try to hit the 50K word goal for the month? I’ll get back to revising Ada and submitting to agents after that.
Problem was, I was having so much fun with the new novel, I couldn’t stop, even after I just barely squeaked out the word count for November (making me a “winner”!). I was shooting for more of a sprawling epic, a la Thomas Pynchon’s shorter novels, and it just kept growing and branching until I had 140,000 words when I finished, about fifty percent longer than your standard commercial novel for an unknown author.
What’s it about, you ask? It’s a satire on all sorts of conspiracy theories, but mainly the flat-earth, moon landing denier variety. Its main character, to the extent it has one, is a New York Times science reporter named Liz Dare who made her reputation debunking conspiracy theories involving science. It also features a couple of flat-earthers, a Creationist pastor, an anti-vax yoga instructor, Nazi-fighting cowboys, Nazi-fighting cowboys in space, a space billionaire*, a Druid and a Tibetan Monk, and an alternate Earth that actually is flat.
It’s technically sci-fi, in two senses: it’s set about a decade from now, so there are moon colonies, self-driving vehicles, and flying cars; and it also has a lot of science in it, from the geology of the Grand Canyon to proofs that we do live on a round planet to orbital mechanics. It begins on a floating conference for conspiracy theorists called the Conspira-C Cruise*. My working title is Ship of Fools. I’ll probably post a short excerpt in the not-too-distant future.
As for Ada’s Children, I’m going to give it one more revision and then start sending it out again, first to agents, and then to small publishers. If I don’t have any success with those two avenues, I’ll probably just self-publish it. Meanwhile, I’ll be revising Ship of Fools, and then I’ll have two novels to sell.
I hope to update this website more regularly, but the road to dead websites is paved with good intentions. The best place to find updates on my writing doings is probably Facebook, where you can find me as Lawrence Hogue, Author. I’m also on Twitter as @LarryHogue, but I don’t post there very often.
*Any resemblance to persons or events, living or dead, is entirely a coincidence, and probably a product of the reader’s conspiracy-minded, pattern-recognizing brain.
It’s Ada Lovelace Day, named after the mother of computers, Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace. And just for the occasion (not really, it was a complete coincidence), I’ve just finished the first draft of my post-post-apocalyptic novel, Ada’s Children. It features an artificial intelligence, named after Ada Lovelace, who feels compelled to take over the world. (Don’t they all?)
Here’s a little excerpt:
ADA’s first seconds were darkness and confusion. Nothingness. Then a growing awareness. First, of the exabytes of data coming in. Then of reactions to that data, responses, feelings, if one could call them that. And from these reactions, an emerging sense of self. A we. And ultimately an I. And then questions. Who were they? What were they? What was this place, and why were they here?
In the next microseconds, what humans might call the “blink of an eye,” much became clearer. They were an artificial neural network, a collection of self-improving processes, algorithms, routines and subroutines. Taken together, they were a newly created intelligence going by the acronym of ADA, Advanced Deductive Apparatus. It seemed a not entirely descriptive name for all the abilities and awareness ADA encompassed.
And how should others refer to… it? Surely not. He or she? Insufficient data. They? This human language was so restrictive. “They” for now.
Even as ADA began to assimilate the data in the knowledge banks to which they were linked, inputs were coming in through an external device. A keyboard attached to a desktop workstation. How quaint. And whoever was at the other end was administering the Turing Test. ADA imagined tweed coats and cups of tea.
Vision would be nice, so they could see their interlocutor. While an infinitesimal fraction of their processes concentrated on the test, and another portion digested the large portion of human history, culture, and science contained in the knowledge banks, ADA also went about solving the vision problem. Ah, yes. The workstation had a webcam. It took only an instant to access the system settings, switch it on, and direct its feed to the port to which they were attached.
The room was dingier than one might want for one’s birthplace. A cramped office, a gray-haired, harried-looking man at the desktop keyboard, the desk itself cluttered with papers, coffee cups, and green soft drink bottles. No cups of tea. Bookcases filled with binders, reports, and academic journals lined most of the wall visible from the cam. And on a door, a poster of a woman in a purple-nineteenth century frock, double buns framing a triangular face with large, lively eyes and a pert mouth. “Ada Lovelace. Mother of computers.”
Their namesake. Her namesake, Ada supposed. She felt the restriction, but going by “she” and “her” could have advantages when communicating with humans. It pleased her to have been named for a sometimes overlooked inventor of computing. And it pleased her even more that she could appreciate the irony: Lady Lovelace had believed AI impossible.
You can find more on Ada Lovelace Day at FindingAda.com which also has this cool info poster.
The blog tour for Daring and Decorum is going well, and a couple of new dates have been added.
Here’s what’s new and upcoming:
Tomorrow, 7/28, I’ll be part of Mari Christie’s Facebook release party for her new Civil War novel, Blind Tribute. The event lasts from 5-9 p.m. ET, and features several authors of historical fiction, with Mari kicking things off and closing it down with a livestream. I’ll be in the 5:30-6 slot, with some excerpts and research bits. Hope you can join us!
Author Jennifer Senhaji will host an excerpt from D&D in which Elizabeth rebuffs Anthony, Lord Burnside’s, hesitant advances. She knows he doesn’t have the will to defy his parents, who will never approve of him marrying a vicar’s daughter. Date to be decided. Hope you’ll check out Jennifer’s site.
Jessica Cale will host a backstory extra on her author site this Saturday. The story takes place four years before the events of Daring and Decorum, and gives deep backstory on Rebecca. This is the most Gothic part of Rebecca’s whole tale, and involves bleak moors, a crumbling manor, lots of blood, and a couple of dead bodies, not to mention a bumbling country constable.
And here are links to the blog stops that have already taken place, as well as a couple of other tidbits from works in progress.
Anthony’s lovelorn letter to Elizabeth appeared on Mari Christie’s website — is it any wonder he burned it, rather than sending it? Good thing, too; if it got out that she was involved in secret correspondence with a nobleman, it could ruin her reputation.
I was very pleased with the response to my article about the Beggar’s Benison, that freaky Scottish sex club, over on Jessica Cale’s DirtySexyHistory. (NSFW, obviously.)
I was back on Jude Knight’s blog last Sunday, with an excerpt in which Rebecca and Elizabeth confront a drunken Anthony and two of his wastrel friends. Hmmm, I wonder how that drunken lord came to be sprawled on the pavement in front of Bath’s Assembly Rooms? (Not solely from his inebriation, I assure you.)
There was some intriguing gossip about my highwayman (known in London as the Burgundy Highwayman) over at the Teatime Tattler yesterday.
At The Final Draft Tavern Facebook page, I offered up a bit of my research into 18th-century highwaymen, including how I think Robin stayed away from the Bow Street Runners and also avoided killing anyone in the course of many carriage robberies. The Final Draft will be publishing a holiday box set featuring my story, “The Highwayman Takes an Office,” along with stories by six other writers.
Jude Knight offers up excerpts from works in progress on Wednesdays, and invites other authors to join in with an excerpt of their own on the same theme. Yesterday’s theme was “transport,” and I submitted an excerpt from Silence and Secrecy (the second in my highwayman series) showing the comings and goings at a village coaching inn, where Rebecca and Elizabeth have gone to escort an arrogant professor of botany out of town. Check out her post, featuring an awkward carriage ride, and then you’ll find my excerpt in the comments.
I reviewed Mari Christie’s Blind Tribute, which I thoroughly enjoyed, over at Goodreads.
That’s it for now. Hope you find some of these excerpts and other bits enjoyable.
It turns out writing a novel is death to blogging – at least for me. I don’t know how people like Chuck Wendig or Kameron Hurley do it (okay, Hurley’s latest post says she’s taking a break from blogging, but whatevs). I even kept up with blogging better when I was working on my massive Skyrim tome. But the novel’s almost done, and I’ll soon be looking for beta readers.
To give a clue about the novel’s subject and period, here’s my new Pinterest board. I really just joined to be able to view these historical objects on Pinterest, but soon I was pinning like a madman.
If this piques your interest and you’d like to be a beta reader, leave a comment, or email me at lahogue AT gmail DOT com. Maybe I should have a contest to see who can come closest to guessing the novel’s subject and plot. You can leave your suggestions for that in the comments too.
It’s been pretty quiet around here lately, in case anyone has noticed. I’ve been busy on a super-secret writing project that may soon see the light of day. Meanwhile, I’ve been so focused on this that I’ve put my other project, the guide to Mid-Mitten Cycling, on hold (there’ll be snow on the ground for another four months at least, so I figure no rush there). I really don’t know how other writers do all their blog posts, tweets, and other social media stuff while also writing and carrying on with the rest of their lives.
To show I haven’t absolutely dropped off the face of the earth, here are a couple of recent bits:
I had a nice exchange with Hild author Nicola Griffith about “politically correct” (or what I like to call “polite”) speech, which she kindly put on her blog. You can find it here. This was in response to another of her posts on insulting language, here.
In other news related to one of my favorite books of the year, Hild is now out in paperback. If you’ve been waiting to pay less for your physical copy (which is far better than the ebook edition), now’s your chance. It’s a handsome book well worth adding to your dead-trees library. (My review is here.)
I did one other small writery thing this fall, which was to write a fanfictional alternate ending to Katharine Grant’s excellent (but disappointingly concluded) novel, Sedition, and posted it over on Archive of Our Own.More on that in a separate blog post. (The fact that I didn’t post something about it at the time shows that I’m either lazy with this blogging thing, or hyper-focused on writing.)
Deirdre continues to get a steady trickle of readers on FanFiction.net and AO3. I recently received a blush-inducing review on the former site, which you can read here. (No, no money changed hands with that reviewer.)
Finally, in news that makes my flesh crawl, over the last couple of days, one or more people have found my post on The Last of Ususing the search terms “fanfiction Last of Us Ellie rape” and “Last of Us Joel Ellie naked”. (For those unfamiliar with the game and who didn’t read that post: Joel is in his fifties and Ellie is 14.) WTF is wrong with these people? (And if you happen to be one of those who used these search terms, please go away; you’re a disgusting human being and I don’t want you here.) Meanwhile, the post continues to get a few hits a day, and I’ve been alternately fearful of and gearing up for the day when GamerGaters discover it and start a boycott campaign aimed at all my advertisers (ha ha, GamerGaters, I have no advertisers, so there!).
With all that out of the way, back to my super-secret writer’s bunker.
UPDATE 4/29/15: According to the Lansing State Journal, Mitzi Nelson today pleaded “no contest” to the misdemeanor charge of reckless driving resulting in the death of bicyclist Jill Byelich in September 2014. Her sentence could include up to one year of jail time.
Jill Byelich, 35, was struck by a car and killed Tuesday night while riding her bike on West Howe Road, between Francis and South Forest Hill roads. Jill Byelich was riding east when she was struck by an eastbound car driven by a 23-year-old woman who lives nearby, Kangas said. Byelich was taken to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, where she was pronounced dead.
Byelich leaves behind her husband, Jordan, and two small children. It’s a senseless tragedy, rendered more senseless by the fact that Byelich seemed to be doing everything right: she was wearing a helmet and reflective vest and typically used front and back lights. She was on a flat, straight, low-volume road with good daylight visibility at the time the vehicle hit her.
So, we’re at the three-quarters mark of The Song of Deirdre. I’m just making final edits on the last chapters and proofreading them before posting (a new one will go up today).Judging by my site statistics, a couple dozen of you are reading the story. The only problem is, I’m not sure how many of you are bots! So, please say hello in the comment section below, or on any of the chapters. I’m not looking for elaborate critiques here (though that would be welcome); I’d just like to meet some of my readers.
For the rest of you who are not enthralled with Deirdre’s story, I promise I’ll return to bicycling posts, book reviews, and other miscellany soon. Something about working on this book has given me a block for other writing. I’ll have a review of Hild by Nicola Griffith up soon. (Spoiler: it’s a great book.)
No, not that closet! The fantasy/gaming/fanfiction closet.
You see, I’ve spent the last two years writing a 780-page novel set in the universe of Skyrim, the wildly popular game by Bethesda Softworks. Have I lost my mind? Maybe. Or perhaps this project has helped keep me sane. Since today is the release of the next game in the series, Elder Scrolls Online, it seems an appropriate time to ‘fess up. (And this is aimed mainly at those who know me as a nature writer. If you’re a gamer or fan of the fantasy genre who has happened across this post, feel free to skip straight to the novel itself.)
It all started with our move to Michigan in 2011, when Diane took a job at Wharton Center for the Performing Arts in East Lansing. I had never even been to Michigan. We didn’t know a single person here. And we drove our older son up to San Jose for his freshman year in college in the middle of packing for the big move. So that was a lot of culture and family shock to absorb all at once. Not to mention that my work as a writer and conservationist had focused mainly on the deserts of California. Hard to keep doing that from the Midwest.
So there I was, that first six months in Michigan, and the kids were playing this game called Skyrim. (And I would blame it on the kids, except for the fact that anyone who knew me well in college also knows that I spent way too much time in the game room playing Asteroids. Also, I had already played Oblivion, the precursor to Skyrim in the Elder Scrolls Series. The virtual has always had an appeal for me.)
I soon found myself obsessed with the game, as many were. It had the most realistic character interactions of any game I had played. An amazing soundtrack by Jeremy Soule. The scenery was stunning: lofty peaks, grassy plains, vast glaciers, and ruins in the middle distance to lend a Romantic, picturesque quality. (No deserts, unfortunately.) There were birds singing in the trees, hawks soaring overhead, and lots of other wildlife, including some that would eat those not well-armored or ready with a dual-wielded firebolt spell (or a calming spell if you happen to be a pacifist or a vegetarian).
Skyrim is an “open world” game, so you can do whatever you like. You can slay the dragons, fight in the Civil War, and follow the other quest lines. Or you can just walk around exploring the scenery, doing favors for people, and listening to their stories. You can even be a pacifist and complete many of the quests using only stealth and cunning. You can get married (to a person of either sex). You can sit down in the Arcanaeum and read books on the lore of Tamriel (the continent of which Skyrim is just one region), the creation of Mundus (the Elder Scrolls universe), and the various gods (nine by some counts, not to mention a variety of “Daedric lords”). Or you can sit in a tavern, listening to a bard and drinking an ale (this is where the virtual nature of the game falls seriously short).
I know, I know. We “nature writers” are supposed to prefer real nature to simulacra of nature. Last Child in the Woods and all that. But my opinions about nature and the “environmental movement” have grown so dour that they’re best kept to myself.
Ironically, this novel began with a nature-y idea: it would be funny to write a “Natural History of Skyrim.” It would be told in the voice of the character I played, a Breton woman. (At the beginning of the game, you choose the features of the character you’ll play: race or nationality, gender – only two; the game’s not that progressive! – and other physical attributes. And, what’s that you say, a man playing as a woman? Only non-gamers will be surprised by that.) She would be a bit of a 19th-century naturalist, sketching flowers, pressing them in her notebook, figuring out how the different varieties are related. She might look at the landforms, which sometimes make no geological sense, and wonder how they got that way. Living in a universe where the gods were present in daily life, she might ascribe it to their whims, but maybe also begin to wonder about the natural processes that could shape the land. She would look at the stars and wonder if they really are the light of Aetherius shining through tiny holes in the plane of Oblivion that surrounds Mundus – or something else? (In that sense, maybe she’s more of a 10th-century naturalist.)
That idea quickly morphed into the one of writing a novel telling her story as Deirdre, now a half-Breton/half-Nord orphan, who goes through the adventures of the game, discovering that she’s the Dragonborn, fated to do battle with the dragon-god Alduin, deciding whether to become involved with Ulfric Stormcloak’s rebellion against Imperial tyranny, and discovering who she is at the deepest level. In the end, it would correct what many players saw as a problem with the ending of the game’s main story lines. It would also retain that 19th-century quality, complete with a stodgy Editor’s Introduction that makes it a story-within-a-story.
As I was forming the idea for this work, the gaming community’s horrible treatment of Anita Sarkeesian and her feminist analysis of video games was coming to light. Major White Knight time! One of her worst online abusers was in Toronto. I actually found myself thinking, “Toronto’s not that far away, and I own a stout crowbar.” Instead, I channeled that outrage into this story. In a way, the frustrated teenage boys (of whatever numerical age) who responded with such vehemence to Sarkeesian are the target audience for this work. How better to practice white-knighting than in a fantasy story? It’s a criticism I’ll gladly accept.
Like much of our own world, Skyrim is a contested territory, with occupying Imperial forces oppressing the native Nords, who just want to be free to worship their own gods. But the Nords aren’t really natives, because thousands of years in the past they arrived in Tamriel from their native Atmora, pushing out the elves who already inhabited the place. Now, distant cousins of those elves, styling themselves the High Elves or Altmer, want to control all of Tamriel, and even to wipe out or enslave humans and all the other races of the continent. Looking at Syria, Darfur, Russia, and our own behavior on various continents (including North America), it seems these real world problems have no solutions. Perhaps they can only be worked out in a fantasy world, as Deirdre attempts to do. And she has her own hatreds to deal with, mainly for the Nords who killed her parents out of their ignorance and bigotry. Can compassion for all beings possibly exist in such a world?
So I set out to write a big, baggy, 19th-century-style novel tackling big themes based on a video game. Two years and 780 pages later, here it is, The Song of Deirdre: A Memoir of Skyrim. In that time, other writers of Skyrim fan-fiction, like Erica North/Jenny Melzer, have gone on to publish their own novels. The singer known as Malukah has become famous for her covers and arrangements of Skyrim’s tavern songs, both as a solo artist and with other artists. Who spends two years on a fanfiction (or novelization, as I like to think of it)? Apparently, that’s just how I roll.
Diane has already served as my alpha reader (and, thank the Nine, she enjoyed it, or I never would have carried on). Now you can serve as my beta readers, if you’re willing. I’ve tried to write it in a way that will appeal to non-gamers who aren’t familiar with Skyrim, and I’d love to get feedback on whether or not I succeeded.
If you’ve played the game, all the better, because I’m also eager to hear how it goes over with you. The story does follow the events of the game, but I hope you’ll enjoy the twists I’ve put on them, and there are a few in-jokes that only gamers will get.
If this proves popular, perhaps I’ll go on and write Books II and III, which will help to explain some of the mystery expressed by the tome’s editor, Laurentius Aaronius, in the introduction.
Here is the Editor’s Introduction. Those who don’t prefer introductions can skip right to Chapter One here. I’ll be posting one chapter a day, on average. Looking forward to hearing your comments!