Makes ya wanna think.

Channel Zilch

Stuff and Nonsense

Tony Santucci and I enjoy a gorgeous dusk paddle.
Tony and I enjoy a dusk paddle on Martel Lake.

The Pad has been a social whirlwind this month. Tony Santucci camped with me on Ogre Island. Myrna and Paul took good care of me.

Angry Robot just signed their first two authors from their Submissions Open Month. I’m still waiting (im)patiently to hear from AR about whether they’ll publish Channel Zilch.

Snow expected Saturday so I’m stacking the last of my firewood today.

Next week is my dogs’ least favorite time of the year: Wisconsin’s Annual War Against Deer. I’ll play lots of loud music to mask the sound of gunfire.

Angry Robot News: Scraping Myself off the Ceiling

The Angry Robot reader gave a big thumbs up to Channel Zilch:

Hi Doug,

I hope this makes your day – I will be putting Channel Zilch through to Marc and Lee [heads of Angry Robot]. It’s certainly one of the most unique styles and voices that I’ve read in a story! I do think it’s a very Marmite way of writing, so either people will love it or hate it. I loved it, the boys may not, but we can only try.

From here on in it goes into a standard submission procedure. Don’t expect to hear anything for at least 8-10 weeks, if not longer. Both Marc and Lee will read the novel and both have to give agreement before it goes in front of the Osprey/Angry Robot marketing board, who also have to give agreement. There are still many hurdles to jump but you’ve cleared the first.


[An Angry Robot reader with exquisite literary taste]


2011-05-01 Myrna's 2011 Birthday Treasure Hunt 150

Random Picture of Doug looking happy. Cap'n Jack Sparrow follows my fashion innovations slavishly.

I love her description of my writing style as Marmite: strongly flavored; you either love it or hate it.

CZ still has major hurdles as listed above, but this is another indication that it’s not complete crap ;^)

A much-needed boost! My health continues to scrape bottom. Just had to cancel a trip to Philly for my Mom’s 80th because I’m too sick right now. I doubt that I will accomplish much on Castle Rising this month.

Another small step on my arduous but inevitable journey to the Nobel Prize for Literachewer!

Next step: Write the MarmiteStyle Manifesto.

Thanks to All who Lived and Died for the Dream of Space

Goodbye Shuttle program. It was a long expensive detour on the road to space. Thanks for giving me shuttle Enterprise to star in Channel Zilch. Thanks to all who worked hard on the program. All honor to those who gave their lives in Challenger and Columbia and in accidents on the ground.

This following tribute to the heroes of space travel is a chapter from Channel Zilch that I had to cut from the book. I’ve excised some plot passages. The narrator is Mick Oolfson, ex-NASA-astronaut, who is planning to steal prototype space shuttle Enterprise and launch it with a Russian booster.

The Columbia crash nearly stops Channel Zilch before it starts.

February 1st. I hear the news. A shuttle died. How can we think to launch Enterprise now?

Seven astronauts died. I knew two of them.

They would have wanted us to keep going – a truth that keeps the whole world from grinding to a halt with grief every time one of us dies.

I’ve said and I’ll say a few unkind things about NASA in this book. Let me put things straight right here and now: NASA covered my back every second of my eighteen days in space. Show me an organization that has more dedicated, skilled, and passionate people than NASA.

It’s a miracle every time a rocket makes it into space. A million interworking components riding a howling flame. Every launch is a triumph for every one of those who makes it happen.

Over one hundred successful launches. Two lost crews. A 98+% success rate at the hardest feat on earth. Never good enough, especially to all the people on the ground who worked to get us up and back.

Thanks to those who gave their lives. Thanks to those who put their lives in peril. Thanks to those thousands who gave years of their lives to build The Dream.

Apollo 1 – Jan. 27, 1967
Virgil Grissom
Roger Chaffee
Edward White

Soyuz 1 – April 24, 1967
Vladimir Komarov

X-15 – November 15, 1967
Michael J. Adams

Salyut 1 – June 30, 1971
Georgi Dobrovolsky
Viktor Patsayev
Vladislav Volkov

Challenger – Jan. 28, 1986
Gregory B. Jarvis
Christa McAuliffe
Ronald E. McNair
Ellison S. Onizuka
Judith A. Resnik
Francis R. Scobee
Michael J. Smith

Columbia – Feb 1, 2003
Michael P. Anderson
David M. Brown
Kalpana Chawla
Laurel B. Clark
Rick D. Husband
William C. McCool
Ilan Ramon

I can’t list every person who gave their life to lift us into space. Astronauts die but risking our neck is part of the job description. Our deaths are news and millions mourn.

No one knows how many died on the ground building, maintaining, supporting, training. I’ll let these two stand for all those unsung heroes:
Columbia – March 19, 1981
John Gerald Bjornstad
Forrest Cole

They died while prepping the first space shuttle launch: Columbia’s STS-1 mission. They suffocated inside Columbia’s engine compartment.

Remember those who gave it all.

Work like hell to build The Dream.

The last shuttle landing. “Space shuttle Atlantis STS-135 lands at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida July 21, 2011.”

Big News: I Changed My Desktop Wallpaper!!!

This picture has been my laptop wallpaper for the last many years as I worked on Channel Zilch:

Doug Touching Shuttle Wheel

I am touching a space-flown Space Shuttle wheel on a shuttle replica at The Cape. I made sure that in Channel Zilch the protagonist, Mick Oolfson, touches the tire of Shuttle Enterprise when he first sees it.

That picture worked its charm and now I can retire it because I’ve finished Channel Zilch. It’s on to Castle Rising, my medieval-kids-vs.-alien-armada book, so I changed my wallpaper to inspire me with views of the homes of the four protagonists:

Castle Rising - Homes of Protagonists

Upper left is Castle Rising in Norfolk, England, the home of Will the apprentice scribe. Lower left is Angkor Wat, home of Visel the reluctant martial art student. Lower Right is the Far View Site at Mesa Verde in Colorado, home of Avis the hunter. Upper right is the Hill Complex of the castles of Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe, home of Shenkasi the prince.

Now to write Castle Rising!

Enterprise News Means Changes to Channel Zilch

NASA announced this month that Channel Zilch star Enterprise will go to New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum: Space Shuttle Enterprise to Land at Intrepid!.

“Intrepid is thrilled to have been chosen as the new home for Enterprise (OV-101), the first Space Shuttle Orbiter, and to help perpetuate the legacy of one of our country’s greatest technological achievements.”

Today I’m rewriting a bit of Channel Zilch to incorporate this news. It’s an easy fix – in the current storyline Enterprise is stolen by the Zilchonauts when it’s flown to the Cape for a fictional future reunion of all the decommissioned space shuttles. I’ve got about a page of rewriting to do to pull off the heist before Enterprise’s trip to New York.

I’m still waiting anxiously to hear from Angry Robot.

End of a Long Winter

This winter has been by far the longest and snowiest since I moved to The Pad 7 years ago. Last year I was canoeing by March 19th – Martel Lake is still iced tight.

2011-02-08 Casey snowshoe hike with Brook and Stephanie 0032011-02-09 Casey snowshoe hike with Brook and Stephanie 003

It was a social winter. Casey Muratori flew out from Seattle and survived a subzero week. We had some great snowshoeing expeditions. I taught him how to make coffee and bake bread and he diagnosed my broken desktop computer (fritzed monitor) and set up an Amiga.

2011-02-08 Hiking with Casey 003
Casey as the Ice Ninja
2011-02-08 Hiking with Casey 005

Ice Ninja stalker

2011-02-09 Casey snowshoe hike with Brook and Stephanie 013

Casey displays his mutant power: Growing tiny glass beads on his unibrow

We spent a couple of raucous evenings celebrating my 59th birthday with Brook and Stephanie at their lovely home.

2011-02-09 Casey snowshoe hike with Brook and Stephanie 0582011-02-09 Casey snowshoe hike with Brook and Stephanie 057

Myrna Mae Berg came to The Pad to celebrate my birthday and to take pictures for my itsu jitsu moogy-woogy album, Boogafoo Music.

2011-02-19 Myrna Boogafoo Album Art Photography 0102011-02-19 Myrna Boogafoo Album Art Photography 0092011-02-19 Myrna Boogafoo Album Art Photography 100

I got some great Channel Zilch news. Angry Robot Books opened for unagented submissions in March and so I sent them the first 15k words of CZ. A few days later I got email:

Dear Doug,

Thank you for submitting a sample from Channel Zilch. I enjoyed what I read, and would like to read more. Please send the full novel to in Word, RTF or PDF format.

WOOHOO! I spent a few days editing the manuscript and sent it to Angry Robot. Checking my email is rather thrilling as I await their response.

State of the Droog: December 2010

This month’s progress report to my patrons Jeff Roberts, Casey Muratori, and Chris Hecker:

Still no agent for Channel Zilch. I’ve queried almost every agent who reps sci-fi (not ALL, because some work at big agencies and sending multiple simultaneous queries to the same agency is a no-no.) Current query stats: 70 sent, 29 query rejections, 2 partial manuscript rejections, 39 queries unanswered so far. Some agents take many months to answer queries so I am letting 2 more months pass before starting phase 2 of Operation CZ Agent.

If I have no agent on March 1, I plan to ask Nicola Griffith, who runs Sterling Editing, to work with me on Channel Zilch. Brook and I are budgeting for her services – manuscript assessment and writer career coaching. I am a huge fan of Nicola’s writing – she won a Nebula Award for her early sci-fi work and is now writing an excellent series of crime novels. I’ve talked with Nicola a few times – she was scheduled to be one of the instructors at my 2002 session of Clarion West but discovered she had MS and had to withdraw.

I adopted Scrivener as my writing app, which lets me write and collect my research in a single writer-friendly program.

I made a solid start on my 2 projects for 2011: Palin/Cheney 2012 and Castle Rising.

PC2012 is born from the ashes of a 2008 project called Operation American Freedom. I wrote about 25k words of OAF and a lot of those words work for PC2012. I moved the old Word manuscript into Scrivener, selecting the keeper prose (15k-words) and setting up the outline of the novel. I project the book to be 75k so will try to write 10 kwords  per month to hit my 7/1/2011 goal. I can do that.

I plan to write Castle Rising after PC2012 so I set up a Scrivener project to collect research. I raided the Wisconsin library system for all its books on the Great Zimbabwe, Angkor Wat, and Anasazi cultures and am having a blast learning about the 12th century.

Looking back on 2010 I feel good about finishing Channel Zilch and waging my query campaign. I’ll never get used to being slow, but considering my cognitive limitations I put in a solid year. I am confident in PC2012 and am certain that if I write the scurrilous book I visualize I can sell it.

The new crawlspace insulation means I may get through the winter without buying propane – the woodstove keeps me toasty. We’re having a deep snow winter here in Comstock – great for writing. The lakes are finally solid so the dogs and I can hike to the local beaver lodges.

My 2011 New Year’s Resolution: Keep on Writing.



Querying progress

I sent my 20th query today. A partial manuscript of Channel Zilch is in the hands of a top agent. I sent 4 queries today, up from 1 a day last week.

I feel optimistic about finding an agent for Channel Zilch.

The leaves are gone. It looks like Winter and I’m ready for it. I’m getting back into the rhythm of feeding the woodstove.

Hauling wood and finding an agent

I’ve been a good little wannabe author, putting all my words into hunting agent. I got a major nibble from a top agent – his assistant read the whole Channel Zilch manuscript and asked for a 10-page detailed outline for the agent – who says he’ll let me know within 6-8 weeks (end of November.)

It is well and truly Autumn at The Pad and that means stacking firewood in the shelter behind the cabin. Every day I haul 10 wheelbarrowsful of oak and stack it.

Six face cords of oak firewood costs $380 ($20 delivery) in Polk County, WI this year. A Winter’s worth of warmth.


First day's stacked wood



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.