Makes ya wanna think.

Hel’s Bet

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.


Clarion West Write-a-thon Goal: Finish Channel Zilch and Seek an Agent

I’m taking part in Clarion West’s Write-a-thon. Please visit my page and make a donation to sponsor me:

I owe a lot to Clarion West. The six weeks I spent in the workshop in the summer of 2002 was one of the most intense stretches of my life. Six professional writers spent a week with 16 of us. We wrote a story each week and critiqued each others and listened to the pros take apart our art and talk about being professional writers. I made some great friends at CW and 3 of them are in my online writing group.

My goals for the Write-a-thon:

I will finish my novel Channel Zilch and start seeking an agent for it.

­Specific goals:

  • Finish final polish of manuscript by July 1st
  • Write a query letter
  • Write short and long synopses
  • Once query is written send at least 5 per week to agents
  • Blog at least 3 times a week
  • Do additional PR work
  • It’s been a while since I blogged. I’ve been pouring all my words into the book. The biggest news since the last post is that I cut the old Hel’s Bet manuscript in half to turn it into two books. It was 190k words long, which is way too long for most agents to consider. Now I’ve got a 95k book – Channel Zilch – and am about a week away from finishing it.

    The Write-a-thon started yesterday and I’ve had 2 great days of writing. I started with 41 edit notes and am down to 29 today. Once I finish I’ll write a query letter and start huntin agent!

    My first publication – The Flying Squids of Zondor – comes out on July 15th from Panverse Publishing’s Eight Against Reality. Dario got the first shipment from the printer and it’s a fine-looking book:

    Can’t wait to hold my copy!

    Plugging along at The Pad

    I continue to pour all of my words into my rewrite of Hel’s Bet. I finished the new Enterprise heist chapter and my first two readers, Brook and Kellyn, are big fans. It’s been slow but worth it. The new chapter is way more thrilling than the previous version. It ratchets up the antagonism between Mick Oolfson and his nemesis Captain Ishwald.

    Weather is warm and I hike and paddle daily.

    I like to read on the islands. Mika doesn’t like to swim so she can roam free.

    It feels great to see the end of this rewrite. In June I go agent hunting!

    Blue Fire, Janice Hardy’s sequel to The Shifter

    Janice Hardy, author of The Shifter and a member of my online writing group, has a title and cover for her sequel, Blue Fire!

    Cover of Janice Hardy's "Blue Fire"

    Janice is a graphic designer and talks about her involvement in designing the cover in her excellent blog.

    I got to critique a draft of Blue Fire last summer. I love her protagonist, Nya, and the completely novel system of pain-based magic Janice created. I look forward to reading the finished book when it’s published this October.

    Meanwhile I continue push my little book, Hel’s Bet. I added a quotes page to the website.

    Brainrot update

    I still have control of my pain when I’m at rest. When I’m in neurological pain I can stop what I’m doing and perform a few toe exercises and stop the pain. That fact is an amazing upgrade to my life.

    Pretty much any activity involving my brain still produces pain, but I can rest and recover between bouts.

    I’m in better shape than I’ve been in a decade. Walks no longer exhaust me so I walk 2 to 3 times more than a year ago, probably averaging 1 1/2 miles of vigorous hiking a day.

    I’ve started a structured diet to whittle off some of the winter’s lard. Every other day I eat 1/4 my usual amount – a light lunch spread over the day. It’s a great way of getting some of the benefits of calorie restriction without true fasting. Food tastes great on the semi-fasting days!

    Writing is still a bit painful, but it’s getting easier. Finishing Hel’s Bet wore my neurons to a nub. That’s been the pattern of my brainrot – pushing hard on a project and paying for it with pain and degraded cognitive skills for months or years. I feel good that I gave my all to Hel’s Bet.

    Time to walk the pooches in melty snow and then do some Hel’s Bet PR.

    Hel’s Bet PR update – WOOHOO!

    Last week I sent Hel’s Bet PR email to some people at the Singularity Institute and to some leading Singularity bloggers. Five of the 9 I emailed said they would read Hel’s Bet. Yesterday I got my first big thumbs up from Keith Kleiner, founder of Singularity Hub: “I am thrilled that you have created this book and I think we might do a story on it.”

    Whether or not Singularity Hub do a story, it’s mighty encouraging that Hel’s Bet “thrilled” a highly-networked Singularitarian!

    Software review archeology: ChipWits with a bullet!

    I am working on PR for Hel’s Bet and one of my tasks is to redo my web bio page. A subtask is to scan a bunch of reviews of my computer games ChipWits and The King of Chicago. I found a software bestseller list from December 31, 1984 which features ChipWits rising fast in the Ed software charts!

    Part of the fun of writing games 25 years ago was the number of competing microcomputer systems. I coded games for about half of these:

    I am still a bit ground down by finishing the book – writing is still tough – but am feeling confident I’m going to sell it.



    I am proud of finishing the third draft of Hel’s Bet. It took me 15 long and often painful months but I kept on writing.

    I am confident that this draft will sell.

    It’s appropriate that I limp across the finish line burnt out and aching. My late summer spurt of writing was crucial to getting HB done but it broiled my writing lobe. I’ve been absent from this blog because I put every word on the page.

    During the last week of rewriting I vowed to jump into Martel Lake at dawn if I didn’t get the book rewritten by 11/9. That was great motivation and I wound up writing all night to escape a cold morning dive. I took a break and did a final readthrough before I started circulating the manuscript.

    After I finished the rewrite I took the dogs camping in the woods:

    We were planning to camp for 2 nights but Travis had other ideas. I slept 12 hours the first night and was raring to go the next day. We did an epic circumnavigation of Lake Almira through bogs and thickets and open forest and when we were 3 miles into the 4 mile hike Travis flushed a pair of deer and was off to the races.

    We were hiking in an unfamiliar area so I was a tad concerned but Travis was chasing the deer back toward Martel Lake. We followed him calling “TRAVIIIIS!” When we got to Martel I was surprised to see a couple guys by the Haunted Trailer wearing green shiny vests. I asked them if they owned the trailer (never met the owners) and they told me they were clearing branches from the powerline but was I missing a dog because one just ran by chasing a deer into the lake.

    I ran to the shore and sure enough there was Travis halfway across Martel swimming slower and slower. The deer was long gone. Martel is cold:

    I yelled at Travis to swim to Ogre Island and he turned around and paddled to it while Mika and I ran to get the canoe. The lake was iced over between the dock and the island. We broke ice out to Ogre and rescued shivering but happy Travis. I took him to the cabin to try to dry him out and warm him up but it was obvious he was in no shape for another night in a tent. And I didn’t particularly want to snuggle with an icy dog. Travis slept like a rock.

    I am taking a week off from HB work. I need to recuperate, straighten up the cabin, work on some of my lost skills, and plot strategy for getting the best agent I can.

    I am circulating the manuscript (just during December 2009) so if you want to read a little story about kickstarting the Singularity by stealing a space shuttle give me a shoutout.

    We’ve got the first longterm snow of the season and are expecting more. The lake froze over but it will be a month before the ice is safe for hiking.

    Every month I send my patrons and friends an update letter. This month’s letter:


    I finally finished the damn thing! I beat my deadline and avoided having to jump into the lake. I celebrated by taking the dogs camping.

    Hel’s Bet is a 190k monster of a book that I am rather proud of. Finishing this draft is by far the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It took 15 months from the time I got my critique of draft 2 until I finished this draft. I started incredibly slowly – last March I had only finished 50 of the 880 pages. My late summer writing spurt was wonderful but ground down my writing neurons to a nub.

    I’m only glad that a novel can’t crash. The last month of bug hunting before putting any game out the door always soured me on the game – I couldn’t believe anyone would play it without a gun to their head. Hel’s Bet still amuses me.

    Now I get to find an agent and a publisher. This month I’ll work with Brook to write the query letter and 1 page synopsis. We’ve already made a target list of the 10 agents who did the biggest deals in speculative fiction recently as our first prospects. 

    I’d love to hear what you think of Hel’s Bet. I couldn’t have finished it without your help.

    I finished stacking my firewood today and am ready for the big snow. It’s great to have a new roof on the cabin.

    Thank you,


    As I search for an agent I will post regularly here.

    Here’s a thumbnail review of Fall at The Pad.


    I realize I’ve been letting Facebook cannibalize this blog. I post daily updates on Facebook – it’s been a great social hub for me – and updating the blog just never happens. So here goes – the Recent Life and Successes of Droog:

    My health continues to improve! I am working on dealing with the pain caused by my kryptonite tasks as it happens and am having some success.

    I started jogging a few weeks ago and it’s been great for me. I run to the mailbox – 1 1/3 mile roundtrip – every other day:

    Yesterday I went on a 4 mile hike/run on a beautiful stretch of the Ice Age Trail along McKenzie Creek with Brook and it was exhilarating. I love trailrunning! I now enjoy exercising again – after 10 years during which it was just too painful.

    I am well over halfway through my rewrite of Hel’s Bet! I’m on page 507 out of 805. I had a breakthrough week last week – 106 pages – because I ran into a streak of chapters that needed only light rewriting. I am going to try to finish the book this month. I am confident I will sell it.

    My amazing writing group continues to kick booty. Aliette de Bodard got a 3 book deal with Angry Robot.

    We’ve had some bear problems at The Pad in the last few months:

    Travis treed 3 bears in the last 2 months

    Travis treed 3 bears in the last 2 months, this one just 100 feet from the cabin.

    I can’t leave my trashcan out on the road the night before the trash truck comes or a bear  munches on it.

    The loons have 2 chicks! They are already about 2/3’s the size of their parents and confident divers. The parents are constantly on guard because of hungry Bald Eagles:

    This Bald Eagle was hanging around on Ogre Island watching the loon family. The parents hooted warnings and kept tight with the chicks.

    This Bald Eagle was hanging around on Ogre Island watching the loon family. The parents hooted warnings and kept tight with the chicks.

    The Tamarack Bog has been dry and the pitcher plants have sent up their weird little flowers:

    My new used Jeep Cherokee, Casey, is a champ! It’s a solid car:

    I’m doing great and plan to do even better once I get this dang book out the door.

    Bye-Bye Brainrot!

    I am healing. Last week I broke the back of my pain. I control it now and the only time I need to feel pain is when I forget that I no longer have to endure it.

    I had given up hope of  healing. I wished at most for reduction in pain, but in the past weeks I’ve had hours of peace within my body. I’ve felt sensations I’d forgotten existed – warm breezes that just tickle the hairs of my arms, the relaxed feeling of tired muscles after an evening ramble. I am hearing and smelling more detail in the world. I have cried many times in the last month as I’ve experienced small pleasures that I had forbidden myself to remember.

    I love where I live – my cabin, Martel Lake, the woods and bogs – even more because now I can savor its  subtle pleasures. I found an amazing haven  to help me survive brainrot. Even in the depths of my pain it was easy to smile at a Martel Lake sunset –

    I clenched my body and spirit against cruel and relentless pain for 11 1/2 years. I ignored my body and deadened myself to subtle pleasures because when I opened myself to feeling, the pain surged in unchecked.

    In 2003 when I lived on Capitol Hill in Seattle I joined a yoga class, thinking it might be perfect to help me relax and keep limber. I had to quit because I couldn’t tolerate the first 5 minutes of the class. When the yoga teacher told us to relax and tune into our bodies, to listen to our bodies, I couldn’t stand what I heard. My body was screaming and by listening I amplified the pain.

    It’s a luxury to enjoy my body again.

    I have reestablished the healthy neural pathways between my brain and my legs and feet. I reinforce the connections by doing simple exercises with my feet.

    A few quick hands of 52 pickup before sleeping.

    A few quick hands of 52 pickup before sleeping.

    I no longer use a laptop to write Hels Bet. Toe cursive is rad!

    I no longer use a laptop to write Hel's Bet. Toe cursive is rad!

    I keep a box of stuff of differing sizes, textures, and shapes to manipulate with my toes.

    I keep a box of stuff of differing sizes, textures, and shapes to manipulate with my toes.

    For years I’ve done my best to shut out the false messages of pain coming from my thalamus and now I can do it.

    I owe my return to health to my new pain doctor, Dr. Brendel, and to Dr. Norman Doidge and his book on neuroplasticity:

    Strangely, I bought Doidge’s book last year to do research into neuroplasticity for self-brain-hacker Heloise Chin in my book Hel’s Bet. Dr. Brendel suggested we attempt to treat my pain with neuroplastic techniques and I was gung ho.

    I’ve been taking lots of voice notes about my exercises and how they’ve changed my life. Grist for the Brainrot book, which will now have an unexpectedly happy ending.

    My energy is amazing now that my body isn’t fighting pain every step it takes. I now take deer trail hikes with the dogs to relax. I bring a branch lopper along to clear obstructions (the deer love me!) Before this healing I hiked every day but it was always a huge push, hurt like hell, and left me exhausted for hours.

    Brainrot interrupted my life twice – 1988-91 & 1997-2009. I have now learned simple techniques to stop it from ever destroying my life again.

    Watch out world, Doug Sharp is back!

    My beautiful but criminally insane daughter Margaret 47 Sharp made me this 47th birthday helmet.

    My beautiful but criminally insane daughter Margaret "47" Sharp made me this 47th birthday helmet.