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Archive for May, 2007

Progress Report, in which I finally exhale

Running late with this report, owing to the holiday.  Had much happening yesterday.  Actually, a lot happened over the week, as you’re about to learn.  Here goes:

It’s been a while since I’ve been between projects. It felt so strange not having a daily word goal to meet. I’ve come to realize that I like having that structure, pain in the ass though it may be at times. I’ll be back at it soon enough, I suppose.

In the interim, I spent much of last week navel-gazing, as you no doubt already know. It was good for me to get my thoughts organized a bit, and it helped me plan for the future.  So thanks for indulging me.

On the Petra front, it appears that I will actually inflict my first draft on some readers, solely in the interest of getting the thing done faster. So that’s another first to add to the list. I’ll let you know how it goes.

The rest of the week was spent updating my database, then plowing through my stack of mss and getting some of them back in circulation. I also got a chance to follow up on some stories that have been languishing in slush piles.  I probably should have followed up sooner, but hey, I was busy.  And I’m a patient soul, folks.  Don’t believe me?  Keep reading.

I still have some novel queries to send, and some more correspondence to catch up on. After that, I will attack a rewrite or two.

Am also pleased and proud to report that my copies of Prime Codex have arrived, and they look even nicer in person than online.  Woo hoo!

Oh yeah, and I turn 40 on Saturday. That’ll be weird. The wife and some friends are planning a big bash. There will be food, fun, and even karaoke. I’m looking forward to the party, actually, and trying not to spend too much time glancing over my shoulder at that hooded figure in black, carrying a scythe . . .

And this just in from Write Club–

After a long, long, long, long wait, I got word today that IGMS has accepted “The Frankenstein Diaries.”

I’m always pleased to make a sale, but this one is especially sweet.  I simply must tell you the tale.  I think you’ll get a kick out of it.

This one took nineteen months, almost to the day.

Yes, you read that correctly–over a year and a half.

To be fair, it was part of the original backlog that had accumulated prior to Edmund Schubert hiring on as editor at IGMS. Complicating the situation was the story’s length–16K. Perfectly understandable that an editor would have a hard time finding room for it, even if he did like it. Ed, bless his heart, would very kindly send me periodic updates, assuring me the story was still alive and under consideration. I also checked his blog regularly, which helped.  But I gotta tell ya, I wanted this one.  I really wanted this one.  And the more time passed, the more I wanted it.

Now, those of you who read Ed’s blog may recall a minor dust-up that occurred a few months back, regarding a post from a friend of his, also an editor, who had participated in an IGMS slush party. I read the post with a great deal of interest, as I knew “The Frankenstein Diaries” was in that slush pile. Imagine my reaction, then, when I saw this: “‘Oh my God, this is my third clone story,’ exclaimed one reader (Mark Rainey, who edited the horror magazine DeathRealms for 10 years). ‘What’s with all the clones?'”

Yep, you guessed it:  “The Frankenstein Diaries” is a clone story.  My heart sank into my shoes. 

Oddly, though, I hadn’t gotten a rejection yet.  Then I learned, just a few days later, that one of the clone stories had made the cut.  I didn’t know which one.  Against my better judgment, my hopes started rising again.  Then I got another email from Ed, informing me that “Frank” had indeed survived the slush party.

Pins and needles?  Needles and pins?  And then some.

Some of this pain, I admit, was self-inflicted.  I’m not a superstitious person, but I have at least one–well, superstition:  I don’t talk about pending mss.  It seems like every time I do, every time I say something like, “Yeah, I’ve had a story at Thus-n-Such Magazine for six months; I’m sure I’ll be getting a rejection from them soon”–every time I say that, the rejection shows up the next day.  I have resolved not to do that any more; I’m sick of being right all the time.  And that meant that I couldn’t even whine about this to anyone.  Yeesh.

So finally, today the email came.  I hesitated to even open it, knowing I would be absolutely crushed if Ed had decided he couldn’t use the story.

Instead, it was good news.  And that made the long wait, with its attendant roller coaster of emotions, worth it.

And I can finally exhale, and tell everyone about it.

Look for “The Frankenstein Diaries” in the Winter ’07 or Spring ’08 issue.

And that’s about enough out of me today.  When next we chat, I will be older.

First Draft Wrap-up, Part Three: Notes from My Crystal Ball

I’ve heard it said, and I firmly believe, that the ultimate purpose of writing, for the writer, is to get better at it.  Not to make the million-dollar sale, not to achieve fame and bestsellerdom (though I’ll cash the checks if and when they come), but to make each new work better than the last.  Toward that end, writing a novel is a tremendous learning experience, and Petra has been no exception.  But the journey ain’t over yet.  I wanted to close out these reflections with some thoughts about what’s ahead.

Obviously, I need some distance from the work.  No problem.  I have at least one rewrite to do, a small mountain of mss that need resubmitting, and some correspondence to catch up on.  The immediate future holds some busywork.  I can occupy myself for the next several weeks.

I’m not sure, really, how much time I need away from the novel.  Somewhere in the vicinity of a month to two months, I think–although two months sounds like laziness talking.  Maybe I’ll split the difference, get started after the 4th of July.

I’m quite curious to see what further process changes are in store for me.  After all, I’ve kept my editor brain locked away in a box for four months.  He’s bound to be grumpy when I finally let him out.  And I did promise him free rein with the rewrite.  Will he punish me by being unusually harsh?  Who knows?  But here are a few things I expect he’s going to be upset about: 

Settings.

I usually sweat the setting details, even in a first draft.  But this time out, I contented myself with a few basic strokes, rather than allow myself to get bogged down.  This was especially true with the first act.  I suspect several of my settings aren’t yet distinctive enough.  While fixing this will be a chore, it has its rewards.  For example, working out these details aids immeasurably in the blocking of scenes.

The Opening.

Even as I was writing it, the opening seemed too slow, too expository.  I was casting about at the time, unsure of the novel’s pacing, not yet in stride–and I think it will show.

The Ends of Acts One and Two.

I found myself bogging down at the ends of the first two acts–times when the action should have been picking up.  I don’t know how or why that happened, but it did.  I suspect that much of the major work of the rewrite will be done in these places.

Trimming the Fat.

Even though this is a short novel, I believe it can be even shorter.  I’m not sure where the fat is yet, but the previous two items may be a hint.

Uneven Characters.

I introduced a few characters without a clear idea of how they factored into the story.  As a result, I think the reread will reveal some inconsistent action and dialogue from them.

Line Edits.

Ah, this is where my editor brain lives and breathes.  Ask anyone who’s ever been critiqued by me.  I make no apologies for this; mechanics are every bit as important as strong characterization and gripping plot.  It’s also something I think I’m pretty good at.  Those of you who have been through one of my crits may take some small comfort in knowing that I’m at least as hard on myself as I am on you.

Still, free rein for my editor brain or no, I think it’s not unreasonable for me to set a deadline for the rewrite.  If I can do the first draft in sixteen weeks, surely I can do the second draft in . . . eight weeks?  Really?  Well, that’s the goal I’ll set myself, anyway.  I reserve the right to make adjustments, though, after I reread the thing.

Looking longer term, the goal is to have Petra ready for submission by the end of the year.  That means I’ll need to get some feedback on it, and soon.  I’m not sure how to go about that at this point.  Normally, I don’t let anyone see my first drafts.  I’d rather walk out of my house naked.  But, as should be abundantly clear by now, I’ve chucked my “normal” out the window.  So maybe I’ll look around for some brave souls willing to have a first draft inflicted on them.  We’ll see.

Looking even further down the road–I have to wonder how well this new process will translate to short stories, and to other future works.  Believe me, I realize the short story and the novel are two different animals.  But considering how many more settings you have to describe in a novel, the greater breadth and depth of characters, and the comparative levels of complexity involved, I gotta figure I can churn out short story first drafts faster, too.

And what about future novels?  Can I do this again?

Ah, but I get ahead of myself.  I’m still in the middle of this experiment.  I’ve just reached a way station, that’s all.  Pardon me while I stretch my legs for a bit, get a drink of water, and maybe glance around at the scenery.

And then get back in the car, and drive on.

First Draft Wrap-up, Part Two: Fun with Firsts

Petra afforded me the opportunity to try several new things.  Primary among them, of course, was the pedal-to-the-metal writing process, about which I discoursed in my first installment.  Here are a few other firsts:

Multiple POVs. 

My first two novels, while considerably longer than Petra, were told entirely from the protagonist’s point of view.  The logistics of Petra demanded a multiple POV approach.  I needed at least two viewpoint characters.  I ended up using four.  I could conceivably have used at least one more.  One of my minor characters, who started off as basically a guy with a gravelly voice, became more and more important to the story as it rolled along.

The redoubtable Elaine Isaak pointed out to me that four POVs is a lot for an 80K-word novel.  She’s quite correct.  I feared that Petra might balloon into a doorstop epic.  It didn’t, thank goodness.  I attribute this to the fact that it covers a very short span of time–only three days.

I’m not sure how successful some of these POVs were, at least at the beginning of the novel.  But toward the end, I think I started getting the hang of using them to my advantage.  For example, one scene featured two characters discussing a third, a person whose loyalty they were beginning to doubt.  In a subsequent scene, I jumped into that person’s head, showing the reader just how right/wrong they had been about him.  That was kinda cool, and factored into the third act.

Da Bad Guy.

One of my POV characters was my antagonist.  This was a very interesting experience for me.  I learned things about him I hadn’t even suspected when I started writing the novel.  I also found, as I believe I’ve mentioned, that writing from his POV was amazingly easy.  Not sure why, but there it is.  If I had to guess, I would say it’s because of the type of guy he is–long-used to being in charge, utterly lacking in self doubt.  A touch megalomaniacal.  He’s a (forgive me) Decider.

Something else that just occurred to me:  one theme I’m drawn to time and time again is the use and abuse of power.  It’s very much in evidence with Petra, and my antagonist is its living embodiment.  Maybe that’s why his parts of the novel went so smoothly.

Of course, one must be careful not to let things get too easy.  One pitfall I became wary of was the temptation to throw in some mustache twirling on his part–especially important to avoid, given that he doesn’t have a mustache.  On a couple of occasions, I had to resist having him engage in some gratuitous villainy to show, you know, that he’s a villain.  He was already enough of a bastard.  He didn’t need any of my help.

But damn, was he easy to write.

Flying Blind.

As I mentioned yesterday, and numerous times over the past several months, I started writing this novel while huge chunks of the second act were missing, and without any real idea how the story would end.  This made me quite apprehensive, as I hadn’t had much success with that kind of situation in the past.  And yet, every time I got to one of those blind spots, my muse bailed me out.  She fed me the story on a need-to-know basis only.  And you know, the plot seems to move along pretty well.  The ending seems pretty well set up by stuff that was planted earlier, as if it had been planned from the very beginning.  It wasn’t–at least, not by me.  (Time and perspective may prove otherwise, I realize–a chance I’ll have to take.)

So why did it work out this time?  I’m not sure, but I think it had to do with my characters.  I’ve always believed that the whole “plot vs. character” debate is a false choice.  The two are inextricably linked, two sides of the coin called Story.  Plot flows from characterization; characters are shaped by plot.  (The relationship strikes me as similar to the relationship between gravity and matter in General Relativity.)

Even though I knew little about what would happen next in the novel, I knew the characters well enough to ask them.  And that, I think, made all the difference.

And that’s enough for tonight.  For my final installment, I’ll hazard some guesses about what’s ahead for Petra.