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My Hair Is ( Finally) On Fire

I’m certainly behind schedule. I’m modestly over (word) budget. I’m still wracked by doubts as to whether the whole loony concept makes sense. But today I experienced a breakthrough, and finally, as Jim Strickland so wonderfully puts it, began writing like “your hair is on fire.” My final, trademark Jeff Duntemann mayhem-filled action climax is well underway. I hope to finish it (and thus the book) in less than a week. To do that, my hair will have to be on fire and remain on fire for a little while longer.

I’ve done this before. I’ve actually done it a lot, which may, at least in part, explain my hairline. In my system of measurement, one “Writing Like Your Hair Is On Fire” unit is equal to 2,000 words captured in one 24-hour period. In my history as a fiction writer, I’ve achieved as many as 2.7 WLYHIOFs. In nonfiction I’ve managed 4.5–and that was back when my hair was vanishing at 40% the speed of light. No wonder.

Ten Gentle Opportunities has been an excruciating project for a number of reasons. It’s humor, and humor is hard. More than that, it’s a love story. It’s actually either two or two and a half love stories, depending on which Love Story standard unit you use. I’ve never written a love story. Now I’m writing two and a half of them, all at once. For the love stories to make sense, I also have to include an AI sex scene. It’s actually an AI menage a trois…but before anybody gets bent out of shape, I need to add that the AIs remain fully clothed throughout (Simple Simon is incapable of removing his clothes) and no naughty bits are mentioned whatsoever. Among humans, sex (as my mother so often insisted) may well be chemistry. Among the AIs of the Tooniverse, it’s undocumented kernel call 105.

For the past ten days I’ve been gnawing on the love story problem, writing a few hundred words, then yanking them out and writing another (different) few hundred words when the first batch didn’t look right. Humorous or not, I’m trying very hard to create characters with some depth to them, which means that character and relationship arcs are important. In this kind of writing, you can’t just reach for the starships anytime you get bored with the people. (I’m famous for that.) I have a plan, and I’m stickin’ to it. If it means blowing my self-imposed deadline, so be it.

As for the hair, hey: There is life after hair. I’m living proof.


  1. Erbo says:

    “undocumented kernel call 105”

    105 (decimal) = 0x69 (hex)
    0105 (octal) = 69 (decimal)

    I see what you did there. 🙂

    1. Of all the people who read Contra, I guessed correctly that you would be the first (and possibly the only one) to notice.

      I’ve been writing code in assembly, and sometimes naked hex opcodes, since 1976. Weird stuff like that sticks to you. I first studied octal while I was reading up on the PDP-8 architecture and lusting after the now long-extinct IM6100 chipset. I could wire-wrap my own PDP-8! Not long after, the COSMAC architecture won my heart by virtue of its sixteen juicy GP registers. So I didn’t do as much octal as I otherwise might have.

      My TI Programmer calculator helped. I think it’s still in a box here somewhere.

      1. Erbo says:

        It is part of ESR’s Jargon File entry on random numbers, too. I probably vaguely remembered it from there, though I did shift my Win7 Calculator app to “Programmer” mode to verify it.

        It is, of course, via DEC and the PDP architecture that octal notation with the 0-prefix got into C (and languages derived from it, such as C++ and Java) in the first place. The early UNIX hackers were used to using octal values in assembler, so it stuck. (Developers on PCs and earlier micros tended to use hexadecimal instead.)

      2. Numbers can be peculiar things.

        I read of the 69/105 weirdness somewhere a very long time ago, long before the Web. I follow links into ESR’s site every now and then, but I don’t ever remember seeing that entry.

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