Alexander Jablokov

 

I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction, with a new novel, Brain Thief.

The name is pronounced Yablokov, and the legal name is Jablokow.  My best friends can't spell or pronounce it, so you shouldn't worry about it either.

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Write me at alexjablokow [at] comcast.net

I'd love to hear from you.

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Appearances

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"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, out now

"Bad Day on Boscobel", The Other Half of the Sky.

"Feral Moon", novella, Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2013

"Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance", Daily Science Fiction, November 6, 2012

"The Comfort of Strangers", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2012

"Blind Cat Dance" reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best Science Fiction of the Year 28

"The Day the Wires Came Down", novelette, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2011

"Plinth Without Figure", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2010

"Warning Label", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine August 2010

"Blind Cat Dance", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine March 2010

Brain Thief, a novel, Tor Books, January 2010

 

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Reboot blog

 

Sunday
Sep142014

Starting with Scrivener

Someone always has a piece of software that will make your life better in some way. And you know the kind of person too: bright-eyed, evangelistic, full of tips and tricks, obscure menu items, time-saving keystroke combinations...

And sometimes, they are right. They just need to overcome my suspicion first.

All writers, at least in my field, at some point talk about Scrivener, the program from Literature and Latte. It's a program that gives you a variety of ways to outline and plot, as well as write, compile, and submit manuscripts.

For a long time I had it, and didn't do anything with it except contemplate how much of a pain it was going to be to learn to use it. How much more productive would I need to become to make up for the time spent learning it? A got a couple of books, because that is how I prefer to learn, and then didn't read them.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I set aside a day to dig into a vast mass of notes and discarded drafts of a book I once worked on, set on the partly terraformed Venus of my novel Deepdrive.

First off, it was a dismaying experience. There were a lot of notes, on various sizes and colors of paper, in various notebooks, and even included a file I generated by Dragon Naturally Speaking after I had had my eye surgery and could not use my eyes to read or write. It was a bit like something you would have expected to find stuffed into a drawer in the Unabomber's cabin.

There was a lot of good stuff there, but it had no organization, and there were several sticking points that kept not getting resolved, the reason I had never managed to move things forward.

I decided to see if Scrivener could help me with this. Scrivener has a feature called the Corkboard, which is an image of notecards on a corkboard. Each notecard can actually be the top card of a stack of cards, if they all relate to the same thing.  And you can move them around and reorganize them. These cards are just a way of looking things, and this information can be viewed in other ways in the program.

So I spent one long day taking my notes and pouring them onto notecards. It was actually a transformative experience.  I created Plot cards, each of which was a scene, with groups gathered into sections, Character cards, one for each, cards for locations, organizations, and other important facts that needed to be decided.

When I was done, where I needed to work and make decisions became much clearer. And it wasn't actually that hard at all to do. I'm sure there is a lot of functionality that I haven't yet managed to get access to, but the liberation of being able to move cards at will, and scan over the plot at a high level, has already showed the program's value.

I have one set of cards called Open Questions. These are issues I have not yet resolved. How does someone escape from the situation they are in? How did this character learn this particular essential fact? Which of several possible characters does something important to the plot?

Having each question on a single card means I can sit down and focus on one clearly defined problem at a time.

Now, to solve each Open Question, I still write on my pads. It's the way I think, and I don't think that will ever change. Scrivener has let me clearly define the problem, though, and then I can focus my mind on it. When I think I have solved it, I write an underlined Good under the solution, and then delete the Open Question card, and put the solution in its proper place in the plot cards (what happens) and character cards (who does it, how this relates to their personality and goals).

Now, I can't say yet that I have solved the problem of the book, but Scrivener has allowed me to make way more progress on it than I have in years. So, score one for the clever software that helps me do my work.

 

 

Saturday
Sep132014

The "crazy uncle" instructs

A few weeks ago I wrote about my role as the crazy uncle of writing workshops.

Now you can confirm or deny this clame for yourself.  Jeanne Cavelos just sent me a link to two segments of my clueless rant about perceptive analysis of plot. Now you can check out what my students are exposed to.

I am podcast #76 here. If you get a chance, let me know what you think.

Thursday
Sep042014

Can a "mad annotator" be female?

I'm fiddling with a story that has an annotator. You know,one of those secondary unreliable narrators who add notes to what purports to be the main narrative, arguing with it, subverting it, sometimes amplifying it. Just to make it more complicated, the main story is itself a lexicon, a collection of entries on an alien culture.

In my original thoughts, both the lexicographer and the annotator were male, two standard types of literary academics, one more flamboyant and fraudulent, one more nervous and obsessive. But I always like to try out different alternatives, and one would be to change the sex of one or both of these characters.

But, somehow, the obsessive annotator seems to naturally come down as male. At the moment, I can't figure out if that is just literary convention, or actually says something about the male neurophysiology. I'm inclining to the "it's just convention" position, since there are certainly many autism-spectrum women, obsessively detail-oriented women, narcissistic "this is about me, isn't it" women, etc. But, in my experience, while they certainly act as unreliable narrators, they more rarely appear as annotators. Maybe Amy Dunne, the wife in Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, can count as an annotator, though not in a strict technical sense.

Could Kinbote be female? This is the kind of thing I think about when I can't sleep, which was certainly true last night.

Monday
Sep012014

The nebulous "Midwest"

I grew in in Illinois, in suburban Chicago. I have relatives in Minnesota, Ohio, and Michigan. I am a Midwesterner, and will never be anything else. Acute ears here in Boston can instantly peg me to, not only the greater Midwest, but the Great Lakes area.

So I am surprised that there is debate about which states are actually in the Midwest. In this survey from 538, only 80% of respondents thought Illinois was in the Midwest. Who are these people, and why do they bother having opinions about anything?

To me, the Midwestern states are (West to East): Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, MIchigan, and Ohio.  No Southern states, please. No Missouri, no Kentucky (!),  One historical characteristic of Midwest states: they were settled from New England, and they were not slave states. In a sense, you could say that southern Illinois and Indiana are not in the Midwest, by this criterion, being more Southern inflected. It's basically the old Northwest Territory, plus Iowa ("around here, dear, we pronounce that Ohio").

The Old Northwest Territory

So they have townships, deep glacial soil and a lot of other glacial geography, nice folks who like casseroles (or "hot dishes"), and a scattering of French place names, which they grotesquely mispronounce.

Quick rule: if you could imagine anyone in town volunteering to serve in the Confederate Army, it is not the Midwest.  It is somewhere much meaner and more ornery. Maybe more fun, I won't argue about that. But not the Midwest.

And no Great Plains states. Great states, all, but completely different. Less water: not a lot of canoeing.  I'd say Midwest is corn and hogs instead of wheat and cattle, but Minnesota and Wisconsin wouldn't fit then. People from Minnesota are incredibly nice, so they want their friends in North and South Dakota to be in the Midwest. I've lived in Massachusetts long enough to say: screw that. Get your own region.

And, seriously, Wyoming, or Pennsylvania? Once words can mean anything, how do you communicate?

Perhaps with a gesture, I guess, which is not visible in this post.

Thursday
Aug212014

"Feral Moon" on StarShipSofa

My story "Feral Moon" came out in Asimov's last year. It's a work of military SF, somewhat out of my usual line, and I was pleased with it. It had been a long time since I'd written a solid novella. It dealt with the specific tactical issues of fighting your way through an inhabited asteroid (moon, really, this taking place inside Phobos) as well as the strategic issues of a too-long series of wars and the emotional issues of a recently dissolved marriage.

StarShipSofa has done an audio version of it.  Check it out.