Makes ya wanna think.

Just finished Channel Zilch!

I started work on Channel Zilch in 1992. It was going to be a story-telling screensaver based on my Dramaton interactive narrative system. I developed the basic storyline — stealing the prototype space shuttle Enterprise – and created the cast – testosterone-surfing geek goddess Heloise Chin, cashiered astronaut Mick Oolfson, space hippy Darthy Vader, and loopy spacecaster Richard Head – within the first year of work.

When Microsoft hired me in ’93 I knew I couldn’t do software to “compete” with them and decided that the story would make a fun book. I’ve got printouts (dot-matrix on perf paper) from 1996 of some early chapters.

When I became disabled with my brainrot I went years without being able to write. But whenever I was well enough I kept scribbling on Channel Zilch.

I submitted the first chapter to Clarion West writing workshop in 2001 and got rejected. I polished it and submitted it again and got accepted in 2002. Clarion West was 6 intense weeks of writing, critiquing, camaraderie, and fierce neurological pain because my seizures were still not under control.

When I moved to my Wisconsin cabin, The Pad, in 2004, I was unable to write for the first year. When my health partially returned I threw myself back into software – GODinabox, ChipWits, Elves – but wore my brain down again.

After swearing off programming I picked up the book again and finally finished the first draft. I sent out queries and got a few nibbles from big agents but no bites. So I finished a 2nd draft and submitted it to my brilliant online writing group, Written in Blood. The group’s critiques were a graduate seminar in turning my manuscript into a living novel.

After reading their critiques I “got it”. The critiques were enthusiastic about my writing and humor and characters and story, but pointed out that I didn’t let the story flow and that I didn’t keep my characters involved in the action. I depended too much on flashy writing which stopped the action dead. After internalizing their crits I could visualize a much, much better book, and that vision has fueled me through the past 2 years.

It took me months to start writing my 3rd draft in the fall of 2008. My cognitive problems made turning my group’s critiques into edits and new prose a challenge. It took me 6 months to rewrite the first 50 pages (of an 800 page manuscript), but when I submitted those pages to my writing group and got enthusiastic critiques I knew I could do it.

I finally realized that my cognitive problem with outlining was killing my progress. Getting Brook Waalen to help me hammer out outlines in weekly face-to-face sessions broke the logjam and my page count rocketed from 10 to an average of 100 pages edited per month. Thanks, Brook!

As I worked on the 3rd draft the book grew into a monster, swelling from 145k to 180k words. When I finished the draft I got a lot of people to read it, and many of them were huge fans. A few complaints reinforced a feeling that I had to change the timeline, which gave me a chance to make the theft of Enterprise a lot more fun. So I spent a few months punching up the heist.

When I went to write my query letter my writing group once again came to my rescue. They warned me that the length of the book was a huge black mark to agents and publishers. Agents are looking for books of less than 100k words. Four of the eight writer in Written in Blood have landed agents in the last few years, so I listen to them.

Luckily, the old book was easily sliced in half. The Channel Zilch team blasts off from Baikonur near page 400 of the old 800 page manuscript, so I spent the last few months doing the surgery and new writing required to create a much shorter book. I now have 2 books: Channel Zilch and Hel’s Bet!

After 18 years of working with the same plot and cast I still get a kick out of Channel Zilch. Writing is often painful but I love my misfit crew and their crazy quest to kickstart the Singularity by stealing space shuttle Enterprise.

Now to sell it.

11 responses

  1. Doug, what an achievement. I’m SO HAPPY for you. I’m more aware then most of what you’ve put into this, and what you’ve overcome to do it. Channel Zilch is an awesome novel and deserves to nbe a HUGE success–and I think it will. WELL DONE!!!!!

    June 30, 2010 at 7:59 am

    • Thanks so much, Dario! Your invitation to join Written in Blood and your (and Linda’s) critiques have been crucial to getting me to this point.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:52 pm

  2. Yay Doug! What an amazing story.

    The world deserves these books. I’m looking forward to autographed copies…

    June 30, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    • Thanks a bunch, Keyan! And thanks for your enthusiastic critique. Everyone in Written in Blood will get an autographed copy gratis!

      June 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm

  3. This is wonderful news, Doug. I knew you could do it! Cheering for you from Chicago (and from CA when I get there)!

    June 30, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    • Thank you, J-being! Your critique was inspiring.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm

  4. Lynette Aspey

    Mick Oolfson is sexy, funny and alive. I want his babies … Oh, too late, he’s already been through the Van Allen Belt. Bad luck, me. Needless to say, I’m a Hel’s Bet fan, and can only wait in the sidelines with unaccustomed patience until I get to hold his hard copy in my hot, middle-aged hands. Seriously, loves’n hugs and jubilations on your achievement. Now, SEND IT OUT. xoxoxox Commandrix, Den Dron.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    • Thanks, Lyn! “Sexy, funny, and alive” – I’ll use that on the book jacket ;^) And thanks for your critique!

      July 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm

  5. Pingback: Clarion West 2002 « Auxiliary Memory

  6. Ella

    I know that, subject to health constraints, you are working to revive Chipwits. Chipwits has always has been a first-rate intro to programming concepts. I’ve used it with students as young as grade 4 (age 9) — at least before my Mac Plus died.

    I wonder whether you’d consider bringing Chipwits directly to the iPad. The click and drag nature of ChipWits matches nicely with the iPad.

    With Scratch gone, there is really nothing in that area. (Robo Logic 2 was likely inspired by your Chipwits, but is quite limited.) Chipwits would not likely encounter Apple’s authoring restrictions since Chipwits is a self-contained environment.

    There is no question that the Apple app store does reach a lot of people and it would be great for a new generation to experience Chipwits.

    Anyway, all the best to you.

    BTW, Mikes’s found on just bounces back the email.

    August 2, 2010 at 9:38 am

    • As soon as I get a publisher for Channel Zilch I will talk to Mike about moving ChipWits forward. We need to find a programmer to take over the project.

      Thanks for your enthusiasm for ChipWits! I’d love to see it on the iPad.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:50 am

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