- Home > Archive: October, 2010
My eco-thriller Ill Wind, written with Doug Beason, will be reprinted by Tor Books in January. This will be its fourth edition, and the recent disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has made the story all too relevant.
It’s the largest oil spill in history…
A crashed supertanker in San Francisco Bay. Desperate to avert environmental damage, and a PR disaster, a multinational oil company releases an untested designer microbe to break up the spill—an oil-eating microbe designed to consume crude oil, until its appetite expandes to include anything made of petrocarbons: oil…gasoline…synthetic fabrics…and plastic of all kinds.
And it’s airborne.
Catching up on last month’s trip. In late September, the weather was turning cold and crisp, and we knew that the hiking season would soon draw to a close. Time enough, though, for one last overnight expedition to hike a section in the Colorado Trail. I was nearly finished with dictating my chapters in The Sisterhood of Dune, and I looked forward to a long drive and plenty of hours on the trail so that I could have some real creative time to finish my writing.
The Colorado Trail is 483 miles long, divided into 28 segments, and runs from Denver to Durango through some of the most spectacular scenery in the state. With my brother- and sister-in-law Tim and Diane, I have so far hiked 367 miles, 21 sections. We take two vehicles—generally, I park at one end of a segment, they park at the other, and we hike in opposite directions, then drive the other car home.
Our next target was Segment 20, which runs from Gunnison to Creede over the La Garita Mountains. Even though the trail segment is only fourteen miles long, the *road distance* from one trailhead to the other is 160 miles, thanks to the rugged mountain range in the way. Obviously, this required some significant logistical planning.
We drove both vehicles to Gunnison (in pouring rain and miserable weather), then down a 19-mile dirt road to reach the northern end of the trail segment. At the trailhead, I parked my car, then ran through the rain to throw my pack, trekking pole, suitcase, and laptop in the back of Tim and Diane’s car, and climbed aboard. We drove back out the 19-mile dirt (mud) road—an hour each way—then reached the highway and drove 140 miles around the mountains to the small, historic mining town of Creede, where we had lodging reservations. We arrived long after nightfall, and much of the sleepy town was dark and empty; after checking into our rooms we found a small bar/barbecue place for dinner, then went to bed for an early hike.
Next morning, the sky was clear, no sign of clouds; the temperature was chilly, but we had warm clothes. We drove out of town up a box canyon filled with mining ruins, winding higher up the 4WD road above treeline. Still more mining ruins, and then within a mile of the southern trailhead at 11,500 ft, the sky suddenly thickened with clouds. We parked. It snowed. It snowed a lot, nearly white-out conditions.
This was very discouraging, but we had spent eleven hours the previous day just getting the cars into position, and we weren’t going to turn back now. In the back of the vehicle, we pulled on extra jackets, fleeces, gloves, stocking caps…and within fifteen minutes the storm had passed, leaving the mountains and trail covered with more than an inch of fresh snow.
Time to go. We headed out, following the path, which was like a line of white high-lighter, and climbed up to breathtaking San Luis Pass, then over the mountains. Clouds came and went; the wind picked up, then faded. We reached the high-point (and coldest point) of the trail and began to descend on the Gunnison side of the La Garita range.
The trail was well marked and made for excellent hiking—i.e., excellent writing and concentration time. I walked a few minutes ahead of Tim and Diane, so I could talk to myself. Over the eight-hours, I pulled out my notes for Sisterhood of Dune chapters, completing a total of five chapters during the hike. Hour by hour, I took off the gloves and stocking cap, then fleece, then sweatshirt. The aspens were amazing, at the peak of their color. Off in the forest nearby, we heard a bull elk bugling—a very distinctive call that sounds more like a rusty hinge than a mating call (but I guess the female elks like it).
Finally, in late afternoon, we reached my car, which had been sitting overnight at the northern trailhead. Then the 19-mile drive down the dirt road (again) to Gunnison, where we ate a large dinner at a steak house, aptly named The Trough, and drove nearly three hours back to Creede and our hotel. I edited some chapters on my laptop before going to sleep.
Next day, Tim and I drove up past the mining ruins again to retrieve the other car (which was covered with frost and ice after sitting overnight at 11,500 ft). For a lighter hiking day, we decided to try a nearby trail, Shallow Creek, up into the aspen-covered hills, during which I dictated two more Sisterhood chapters. That afternoon we also spent some time exploring Creede, a very quaint town with a lot of history.
Now that we had our separate vehicles back, we drove home the next morning on our own schedules.
This was only our second Colorado Trail segment for the season, but it’s not likely we’ll get a chance to do another before next summer. It was a marvelous trip, one of the most beautiful sections we had seen so far, and on the drive home I did finish dictating my last chapters in Sisterhood of Dune, ten total during the hiking trip. And I had done a great deal of mental recharging—that’s the best benefit of the trail.
All photos by T. Durren Jones or Kevin J. Anderson
A few years after my first novels were published, David Brin asked me if I would collaborate with him on a short story. At the time, David was at the height of his career, winner of numerous awards, a New York Times bestselling author, one of the most respected names in the field. I, on the other hand, had far fewer credits. Although we had known each other for a while, I was still surprised by the offer. “Really? Why would you want to collaborate with me?”
“Because I want to figure out how you can be so prolific.”
So, we plotted and worked on the story, back and forth, but it never really came together. Finally, after about three months, David said to me, “All right, I’ve figured out how you can write so much. It’s because you write all the time.”
Granted, I love to write, and I’m even a little obsessive about it (okay, maybe very obsessive), but I’ve never understood why a full-time writer should expect to put in any less time “at work” than anyone else with a challenging full-time job. A teacher is expected to be at school before the buses arrive, teach classes all day, stay until after the students have gone (sometimes coaching after-school sports), and grade papers, often into the night. A doctor sees patients all day long, usually eight hours or more. A lawyer spends the entire day (and more) writing briefs, researching cases, meeting with clients, filing papers, appearing in court.
Why shouldn’t a writer put in a full day of work?
Right now I’m under several tight, concurrent deadlines (what else is new?). I have an office in my home, but that is often fraught with distractions. I occasionally take the laptop and hide in a local coffee shop, conveniently “forgetting” my cell phone in the car and turning off the internet access so I can concentrate on my editing. Other times, when I have a particularly heavy slate of writing/editing to do, I will go away for a few days, find an out-of-the way lodge or empty ski condo off season, where I can get a lot of uninterrupted work time. That’s where I am now, out in the mountains at a ghost-town ski resort (it’s at least a month before the lifts open).
On the morning I left, I spent two hours at home gathering notes and writing down ideas for a new “Seven Suns” trilogy proposal. Lots of big concepts, character sketches, plot ideas, which will take me a while to whip into shape, an overall blueprint for three 700-page novels. Then I packed my suitcase, drove to the grocery store to pick up supplies, drove to the accountant to retrieve our recently completed tax returns, and came home to have lunch with Rebecca. She is finishing her rewrite on our second Star Challengers novel, which she’ll email to me the day after I hole up in the lodge.
I drove two hours into the mountains to get to the ski resort, while listening to an audiobook on the way (a current bestselling thriller, so I can keep up with the market), and had a phone conversation with Brian Herbert about some background details in The Sisterhood of Dune, which I would be editing. After I checked in, mid-afternoon, I walked around the area for a while, thinking a bit more about the new Seven Suns proposal, then set up the computer in the room. I edited three first-draft chapters in The Sisterhood of Dune, two of mine and one of Brian’s, because that’s the order they appeared in the outline.
For dinner I heated up some leftover gumbo that my friend Paul had made, then worked on formatting the ancient Word files of my novel Assemblers of Infinity, a Nebula nominee that I wrote with Doug Beason. We’re putting some of my hard-to-find backlist titles up as ebooks; I have all the electronic rights to the novels, but they all require some cleanup and reformatting. Because the files were so old, the prologue and epilogue were corrupted, so I had to rekey them from my paperback copy of the novel—about ten pages. (Not fun.)
Then I watched the DVD of the original Boris Karloff Frankenstein film (research for a short story I was commissioned to write). After that, I took a bath and read four submitted manuscripts for Blood Lite 3, which I’m editing.
That’s a day at work, a fairly typical one. A lot of hours spent, and quite productive, but I wouldn’t say it’s much different than, say, a corporate executive, the owner of a busy restaurant, or a hospital administrator. A successful author doesn’t get to just write for an hour or two and then dink around the rest of the time.
This is my job. This is my career. This is how I make a living. And like anyone else who has a freelance occupation, if I don’t do work, I don’t get paid. If I don’t deliver what I promised in a contract, I’m not likely to get work again. A professional writer treats a day at work like a day on the job.
It’s the difference between a career and a hobby.
Don’t miss the next Superstars Writing Seminar, Jan 13-15 in Salt Lake City: no-nonsense business and career advice for the serious writer, taught by six bestselling writers, Kevin J. Anderson, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, Eric Flint, and Rebecca Moesta. Note that the early-bird price for the seminar goes up at the end of the month.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch has posted many excellent articles on the business of writing, contracts, managing a career, planning projects, and just about every subject a serious writer should heed. You should already be reading her blog at kriswrites.com.
Her most recent posting, on Responsibility, is one of the best, and relevant not only to writers but to everyone who has a job, family, bills, paperwork.
Also, a reminder about the next Superstars Writing Seminar, Jan 13-15 in Salt Lake City: no-nonsense business and career advice for the serious writer, taught by six bestselling writers, Kevin J. Anderson, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Brandon Sanderson, David Farland, Eric Flint, and Rebecca Moesta. Note that the early-bird price for the seminar goes up at the end of the month.