Come to My New Blog!

If you followed a link here from a comment I made on somebody's google blog, I would love to have you visit my blog, but this is no longer it. While I may occasionally post things here again once in a long while, virtually all my content will be at from here on out. If you were curious enough to come this far, why not give me one more click?

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It's 2008 somewhere . . .

In 2008 I . . .

  • . . . resolved to get back to writing instead of dreaming about writing, wishing about writing, and remembering how much I used to love writing.
  • . . . wrote Vanishing Act, my 100,000 word 120,000 word 105,000 word 90,000 word 83,714 word urban fantasy Young Adult modern fantasy Young Adult modern fantasy Young Adult contemporary fantasy Middle Grade contemporary fantasy Young Adult contemporary fantasy novel.
  • . . . stumbled across Steven Gould's blog while looking for information about the forthcoming Jumper movie, which led me to a conversation on appropriate versus inappropriate Young Adult SF content on SF Signal, which in turn led me to discover Ellen Datlow's and Nancy Kress's blogs. These were the first three blogs I began reading (four if you count SF Signal), and before I knew it I was following links and stumbling across new blogs and setting up a Google Reader account, with which I now follow the blogs of four editors, twelve writers, and eighteen literary agents, thirteen of whom represent the sort of fiction I write.
  • . . . was called a raging homophobe in that same SF Signal discussion, despite being a democrat who believes gays ought to have the legal right to marry, because I apparently wasn't willing to be quite as hateful as some other people. (Interestingly enough, Firefox don't know the word "homophobe.")
  • . . . started my own blog. Maybe some day people will find this blog as useful and interesting as I have found all the blogs I follow.
  • . . . attended two regional writers' conferences.
  • . . . attended three science fiction Cons: FX, ReaderCon, and WorldCon.
  • . . . voted for the Hugo awards.
  • . . . attended the Hugo award ceremony. (This was a Big Deal to me.)
  • . . . met a ton of writers and editors I admire, including Linnea Sinclair, Elizabeth Bear, Debra Doyle, James MacDonald, Ellen Datlow, Anne Aguirre, David Hartwell, Tanya Huff, Elizabeth Moon, Nancy Kress, George R. R. Martin, Robert Silverberg, S. M. Stirling, Joe Haldeman, and, believe it or not, tons more than I can remember. If you're a nerd like me, I can't recommend WorldCon enough.
  • . . . discovered that, while all those people are way cool and talented, Sinclair, Doyle, MacDonald, and Aguirre take cool and generous to astonishing new levels.
  • . . . was somehow lucky enough to get a published author to agree to mentor me. I won't say who, because I don't know if that's cool. (I don't want to drive a bunch of other wannabe's to this person.)
  • . . . put some awful crap from 2007 more or less behind me.
  • . . . failed to pay off the credit cards I ran up during that awful crap, largely because of all the travel we did this year. Oh well--it certainly can't be denied that we lived well. I'm sure that will stay with us longer than the bills will.
  • . . . learned a ton about writing, both as a craft and as a business.
  • . . . pitched my novel to three agents, in person, all of whom seemed enthusiastic and interested, and all of whom requested partials.
  • . . . failed to deliver said partials in anything like a timely manner, even though the novel was complete when I pitched it, because I decided it wasn't polished enough, and I didn't want to be That Guy who sends his stuff out before it's ready. Hopefully I haven't slammed any doors for myself, because these three agents, as luck would have it, are all fantastic agents I'd be thrilled to have represent me. I'll send the stuff out just as soon as my phalanx of beta-readers gets past chapter three.
  • . . . entered a literary contest, which I failed to win.
  • . . . submitted to an anthology right at the deadline, only to discover that, through some glitch, I sent them an empty file. Surprisingly enough, they declined to publish my empty document.
  • . . . won the big prize in Moonrat's Mischief Fights Cancer raffle!
  • . . . joined my state writers' association, and its local branch.
  • . . . had three published authors read some of my novel and make very positive remarks about my writing.
. . . and probably a few other things that are slipping my mind. In terms of writing, it's been a damned fruitful year. I feel really close to breaking through--when I think of how close I was to basically giving up on my dream before this year, I am awestruck by how blessed I've been.

More than anything else, I am blessed to have a wife who has the same dream I do, so I never have to explain or justify what I'm doing, because she knows. Whatever sacrifices this dream takes, she's right there making them alongside me, and we're there to pick each other up in failure, and to celebrate each other's successes. She's at least as talented as I am, so even if I don't break through, I know she will. I'm lucky to get to watch her and learn from her.

Continuity error averted

A beta reader suggested that there should be some hint that the truck Chris and his father live out of is unreliable before it has trouble starting up in chapter two. So I went back to chapter one, found where Chris first gets in the truck, and tried to come up with some telling detail that would lay that foundation. Let's see . . . Chris is reading . . . it's dark . . . how about if I mention that he can't use the dome light because it hasn't worked in years. Perfect! Except . . . late in the book, he does just that. He reads by dome light and drains the battery. Oops. Thank goodness I caught that. It's so easy to make a mistake of that sort. People who read a book generally finish it in a matter of days, if not less. But when you spend a year working on writing and revising it, it's so easy to forget stuff. It's like looking at a painting from across the room, versus being an ant crawling on the painting. The ant is too close to it to really take it all in.

Oh well. Back to the drawing board.

Where did my vacation go?!

I had such plans for last week. I was going to get a whole bunch of revising done, and build a nice backlog for my beta readers of chapters that had been sifted with a fine tooth comb, with as much suck as possible filtered out. I was also going to resubmit that lost short from long ago, because the editor of the market in question responded to my follow up with a request to resubmit.


Between cleaning like mad--long overdue, because, as I've noted here, I've let things slide around the house to free up more time for writing--and entertaining and several big holiday meals, I've been at least as busy at home as I was the week before at work. Yesterday was the first chance I've had to work on my book in a week. I've got some annoyed beta readers, I think, since I've also slacked on sending out new chapters to read. Last thing in the world that I want is for them to lose their momentum.

I've also slacked on the blogging. Of course, blogging is a lower priority than writing, but I do want a record of my writing process to look back on later. I read this idea somewhere--I think one of my friends posted it on his forum--I'm making a note of the things I've learned not because I think people can learn them from me, but because I tend to forget, and so months later, flipping through my archives, I might learn from myself. So in the next week or so, I plan to blog about what I've learned through the process of working on Vanishing Act, and some sort of look back at the highs and lows of 2008 for me, from a writing standpoint.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wish I'd figured this out forever ago.

The solution to almost every writing problem I run across while doing my super-close edits seems to be, "go deeper."

Deeper third, that is.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Do you still own the things you share?

I've finally got some people who don't live in this house reading my MS, and I have to say I'm a bit weirded out about it. When a new e-mail arrives from a beta-reader, I have this moment where I'm contemplating parts of my book and suddenly thinking, "Oh god, what will So-and-so think of this?!" Which is doubly weird, because I don't actually have any friends named So-and-so . . .

It's like, as much as I've been hoping this would be the work of mine that finally sees the light of day, on some level as I was writing and rewriting and revising, it actually didn't *occur* to me that other people would, you know, *read* this thing! This is my story--what are all these people doing reading it?!

It's also a vulnerable position, because I find myself fearing that people will think less of me if they read my writing and it sucks.

Oh well.

EDIT to turn one of these sentences into English and to complete my hastily-posted thought.

Friday, December 5, 2008


The climax of Vanishing Act was originally supposed to take place in Rome, Georgia. But I had to invent a road and a factory that didn't actually exist there, and then Chris spent some time in their sheriff's department--and I've never been to the Rome, Georgia Sheriff's Department. What are the odds anybody would notice if I got some detail wrong? Who knows, but I didn't want to chance it, so I decided to fictionalize Rome, much as Linnea Sinclair turns Saint Petersburg, Florida into Bahia Vista in her Down Home Zombie Blues. That way I could fictionalize whatever parts of it I needed to. So after writing the novel, I did a global find and replace, replacing "Rome" with "Carthage." (Cute, huh?)

So today I'm doing some really close editing of chapter three, when I run across this little gem:

Chris’s father snorted and said, “It probably has her kid’s paper on Carthageo and Juliet or something. Pictures of her dog. There’s no angle there.”

I'm all like, Carthageo and Juliet?! Where the hell did that--oh.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What I'm learning about myself . . .

This'll either be a series of posts, or maybe one post that I go back and add to later.

I'm doing very close, word-by-word editing right now. It's tedious, but I'm really pleased with the results. One thing I'm doing (I think I mentioned this in a prior post) is searching, with the Find command, for junk words, for weak writing signals, and trying to cut out the ones I can. In the process, I'm discovering things about my writing habits that I might not be able to learn any other way. How often do we look at our writing *this* closely?

Anyway, I'm going to make a note of the things I find, mostly for my own benefit. So that maybe in future writing I'll avoid some of these amateurish things in the first draft, and not have to seek and destroy them later. Still, maybe someone else will find it useful too, and that'd be cool.

One thing I've noticed tonight is that I have a real tendency to write "could" plus a present tense verb instead of writing a past tense verb. For instance, "Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the two men," instead of, "Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the two men." It's often weak writing: Instead of explicitly describing what does happen or what a character does, I imply the action, by merely describing what the character *can* do, or what *can* happen. I'd never noticed that tendency before; I'm glad I'm onto it now.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm not neurotic. Why do you ask?

Chris gets his hair tousled three times in my MS. Once on page 50, once on page 79, and once on page 105. By three different people: a stranger, the good maternal-like character (Michelle), and the good paternal-like character (Paul).

Too much?

He hugs a dog twice, both on page 134. That's definitely a problem . . . I'm noting it here so I remember to take care of it.

He gets squeezed twice. Once on page 79 and once on page 118. And on page 192, Paul squeezes Michelle.

I apparently never used the word "playful," though I could have sworn I did. Must have gotten it on a previous edit. Good on me.

Chris rolls his eyes four times and begins to roll them once more but stops. Two or three other characters roll their eyes once. He's a teenager, though . . . if he couldn't roll his eyes his head would probably fall off.

The word "eyes" occurs 53 times in my MS. I don't know if that's too much or not. I tend to think the eyes are a window into the soul. People roll their eyes, their eyes water, their eyes hurt when they are tired, and so forth. I don't think I use any single construction too many times, but it's something to watch and think about.

This is the sort of picky detail-level stuff I'm focusing on now. I'm thinking it's in these little details where the difference between polish and . . . its absence . . . lies.

UPDATE: I used the phrase "after an eternity" twice. Once on page five and once on page 134.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's probably just a phase

First I wrote the thing. Next my wife, my alpha reader, read it and pointed out the worst of the suck, which I then removed. Then I went through and chopped a third of my wordcount off--first by pulling out scenes and finding ways to make other scenes do their work, and then by going through and looking for sentences or paragraphs full of self-indulgent or boring writing I could cut. (I've got a blog for boring and self-indulgent writing; it doesn't need to go in my book!) Then I went through looking for amateurish writing. Over-reliance on the verb to be, overuse of the gerund form, overuse of my protagonist's name, overuse of garbage words like just and garbage constructions like he found himself . . . . And then I went through looking of ways not to take the suck out, but to put some good stuff in: more sensory details (but not in overwhelming quantities), the occasional bit of figurative language, and so forth.

And you know what? I'm starting to like this thing.

I'm starting to like it a lot.

I've certainly gone through periods of hating it. Times when I felt sure this was an unbelievably stupid story, that nobody would want to publish--let alone read--it, and that it would just become another trunk novel. And I've read enough writers' blogs to know that loving and hating your MS are just phases you go through. But I don't want to hear that. Right now I feel like I've got something people will enjoy. I feel like I've got something sellable. I feel like all the time I've put in revising and revising and revising are paying off.

I didn't do anything like this for Prototype. I finished my first draft, looked at my wife's comments, maybe did another read-through and touch-up myself, and sent it on its merry way.


I've posted before about my feeling that I'm pretty proficient with the nuts and bolts of the language, but that I was frustrated at still detecting something amateurish in my writing that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I wasn't finding that level of polish I see in the books I like to read. Well I may be delusional, but I'm starting to see it.

(Yes, this is a terribly self-congratulatory post. That's why it's my blog. Read until you find you nausea point and then feel free to stop. This is where I put all those natterings I don't want to inflict on any unwilling victims.)

All my MS needed was a little lot of work.

Go figure.

(Say, anybody wanna beta-read?)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

And as the plane crashed down, I thought, Well isn't *this* nice.

Last night I finished the first draft of my five page synopsis.

It's twelve pages long.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

News that makes me feel hopeful

From Kristin Nelson's blog, last week:

I was at a couple of other children’s publishers yesterday and let me tell you, all the editors eagerly asked if I had anything for middle grade right now (which, sadly, I don’t). Lots and lots of room in the MG world.

My book's not MG, but my impression of YA is that it's a spectrum, and my book's near the younger end of it. I see my target readers as being in the twelve- to thirteen-year-old range.

From Kristin Nelson's blog, tonight:

Because I promised to share my notes (and I only have about 10 minutes to blog), here is what I have scribbled down from the children’s editors I talked to. In no particular order:

--Looking for contemporary stories with a paranormal element. Contemporary main story with just a touch of paranormal.


--voice and character driven fiction (isn’t that what all editors want?)

--a family-oriented story with complicated relationship between main character and parents or main character and siblings etc.

Check, I'd say.

--MG fantasy

Again, borderline check.

--MG or YA with boy protagonists

Big time check.

Man, I've got to finish revising and get my MS out there.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Ever notice that your odometer doesn't change when you drive in reverse?

The rest of my darlings are safe . . . I'm done cutting for now.

I've gone from 120,084 words to 84,210, for a decrease of 35,874 words. Of course, the word count will continue to change as I continue to revise, but this is a good point to stop and take stock.

It took me about six months to write 120,000 words. It took four or five months to cut 35,000. The implication would seem to be that cutting is a lot harder than creating. I'll tell you what--it's a hell of a lot less fun. What's frustrating is that everyone focuses on how many words you've written as a way of measuring your accomplishment. Clarke said you had, what, 500,000 words of crap in you? What about the words you excise--don't those count toward your growth?A lot of people have a hard time grasping that I've been productive at all for the last five months, since my word count hasn't increased.

On the other hand, it really is a lot better now. So much of the stuff I cut was just crap. Stuff that, in hindsight, I'm not entirely sure why I wrote in the first place. Details, details, details. I am a detail-oriented person, but one thing I've learned is the difference between the telling detail and overwhelming the reader with minutae. Writing clichés be damned: sometimes you need to tell and not show.

I don't imagine I'm done by any stretch, but I'm finally down to a wordcount that is not totally unreasonable for YA, and that's something to celebrate.

Tomorrow, I hope to polish off my synopsis. I've got the bones of it done, but right now it's just a dry plot summary. I need to have it capture the feel of the book. After that, I'll focus on the material that agents are going to want to see in their partials. First thirty pages, first three chapters, whatever. I've got a week off coming up, so I should be in good shape to get that done. I'll also be trolling for beta readers, hopefully in the next week or so.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Blargety blarg

You've been warned.

Tomorrow is the awards ceremony for the award Lisa and I are both finalists for (different categories, so no marital competition issues). I've mentioned it here, but I don't think I've mentioned it elsewhere.

I am excited about this. Maybe I'm silly for that. It's not some famous national award, and even if I win it, I'll still be an unpublished nobody. But if I win or place, it will still be validation. It will mean maybe I'm not being stupid to think that I'm talented enough to find success as a writer. It will mean that, given a small enough pond, I can be a fish of note. (Which is not to say that not winning will mean the converse; it will just mean that two or three people were better. But winning would still be nice.)

I wish I had people sharing my excitement. I wish I had people who were excited for me, and pulling for me to win. But I've hardly told anyone. I don't know a classy way to say, "Hey! I'm a finalist in a literary contest!" I don't like how egocentric that would make me feel. I don't want to appear to be a braggart. I haven't found a smooth way to bring it up, so almost nobody knows.

Ironically . . . or, um, something . . . someone in a forum I frequent pretty much implied last week, not for the first time, that I'm a narcissist who makes everything about me. So either I'm a really horrible egomaniac, given that I come off as one even when I'm trying to keep things to myself . . . or I should just go ahead and brag all I want, since I'm damned whether I do or I don't.


Friday, November 7, 2008

Ooh, shiny!

Know what that is? That's this blog. Or it was, anyway, before I went and posted this. Want to make one of your own? Look here:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Weird milestones

I just crossed 90,000 words.

On my way *down*.

If you've been following this blog you know I've been struggling to chop down my bloated MS, but to anybody else, the idea of milestones that are *lower* than your current wordcount must seem odd at the least. F'rinstance, I can't help but notice that Writertopia doesn't have any counter doodads for *reducing* wordcounts.

80,000 may not be reachable, but for now, I'll take a moment to enjoy the accomplishment of deleting 25% of a draft.

On looking back and realizing how stupid I was

It took me about six months to write Vanishing Act. I've now spent the better part of five months polishing it, and I'm not done. I don't remember how long I spent writing Prototype, but I spent next to no time polishing it before I began sending it out to agents and publishers alike. One read-through by my wife, another by me, and it was out the door. What are the odds that back then I made none of the same mistakes I've made in VA? One of these days maybe I'll pick it up and look, but I'll tell you the truth--I'm more than a bit scared of what cringe-worthy crap I'll find.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

It was somewhere around chapter eight or nine that I learned to write

I finally got through shortening that monstrous chapter seven. If it isn't tight yet, then at least it's tighter. It took a couple of passes or so and at least a week of work, though.

Then I looked through the next couple of chapters, and found some stuff that actually seems pretty good to me. I've felt for some time that my writing by the end of the book was tons better than it was at the beginning, but it was still nice to come to some prose and think, you know, I'm not particularly ashamed of any of this.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who stuffed all this CRAP into my book?!

Seeing what's got to go and what can stay is a lot like looking at one of those gestalt pictures, or maybe one of those 3-D stereograms. I've been struggling with one of my chapters in particular for several days now--originally a 7,000-word beast of a chapter, now down a couple thousand words or so. So I made a sweep, looking for stuff I thought was boring or self-indulgent and pulling it, and shortened it by a fair bit, but I thought it was still too long, so I decided to look again. Now I see all sorts of stuff that really isn't moving the story forward that somehow I missed before. And it's weird, because I read the stuff a couple of times just looking for junk to cut, and somehow thought, "this is okay . . . this is okay" and then had a moment of "What the hell?! Am I seriously spending three paragraphs talking about this?!"

I don't know whether to be pleased or troubled. On the one hand, I'm finding this crap and removing it. On the other, the way I can miss it and then just have it snap into view later worries me. How much writing that bogs the plot down instead of advancing it am I not seeing? If I didn't have this pressure to get under a certain wordcount, would I just be blithely sending this off to agents and stuff?

As with staring at stereograms, looking for pointless prose to prune gives me a headache.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The stars might lie but the numbers never do.

I just found out I'm the winner of the full manuscript evaluation from Moonrat's Mischief Fights Cancer raffle!

I know, I know, the raffle was like a month ago. But I had gotten to feeling that I was spending more time in the blogosphere than on my manuscript, so I quit cold turkey for a few weeks. By the time I looked at my feed reader this week, the raffle blog was apparently no longer extant, so it took me a while to find out I had won. I also figured there was no chance because there were, IIRC, something like eighty entries in the full MS raffle the last time I'd checked, and I'd only bought one.




Ahem. Excuse me. I've been lucky enough to win a few competitions before, but I can't really think of a time I've won anything of any significance from a raffle. So pardon me while I go tell all teh inarnets. :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

They say that after you kill for the first time, it gets easier and easier . . .

So pretty much as soon as I decided that was it, I'd cut all I could, I needed to shift my focus from reducing wordcount to actively making the words that remain better . . . it got easier.

I knew from past experience that I couldn't cut substantially by going word by word. I've already learned that doing so just kills any nice turns of phrases or metaphors I might have while doing almost nothing for my word count. So I figured the thing to do was to cut scenes that weren't moving the story forward very much, and make some other scene accomplish whatever those scenes *were* doing for me. And this worked. I cut about 20,000 words this way. Unfortunately, this left me still pretty far from where the industry says a YA novel from a new author should be, but I couldn't cut any more scenes, so I decided to just go with what I had and hope for the best.

I did have a few little things I thought I could look at, though. Parts within important scenes where I was perhaps a little self-indulgent. Having Chris do or think about something just because *I* wanted to write about it. I also think I tended to spew more earlier in the book, because I wanted to make sure it wasn't too short. (Hah freaking hah.)

So I decided to take one last look, and cut . . . and cut . . . and cut. I've cut another six thousand words or so just this week and, what's more, I'm feeling that what's left behind is starting to take shape. It's starting to look halfway good to me again, and I'm regaining my enthusiasm. I actually got up at 5:30 this morning to work on my novel. And I'm really just getting started . . . I've only looked at the first five or six chapters this way. I might not make it down to my wordcount goal, but I'm starting to think I'll make it to within shouting distance of it.

It's funny.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Small Town Jericho

I took the girls out to a playground today, and they spent the entire day running around while I wrote. We had our first slight nip of the fall, and one of those gorgeous sunsets that only seem to happen in your imagination. The sun hung low in the sky, enormous and red, and I looked up from the picnic bench I was typing at to where the girls were chasing some little boy with a football, and thought, whether or not I ever achieve any success as a writer, I will look back on moments like this and romanticize them. Usually that's hard to see except in hindsight, but I guess I was in a reflective mood. I thought about my first kiss, about when Lisa and I still lived in our first house, about when the girls were babies. I think the lie of nostalgia is that all those moments are behind you. It rarely occurs to me that those moments never stop happening, but this time it did. So I drank as deeply of the moment as I could, trying to lock it into memory, so I could enjoy it again later. Call it preemptive nostalgia.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Learned an important lesson tonight

I firmly believe that some time in the relatively near future, I'm going to be in a position to write an acknowledgment or a dedication on a work of art. Maybe not this year, maybe not next. But sometime. When that day comes, I'm going to try really hard not to snub anybody, just because I can.

Cause that shit hurts.

Character Voice

Chris's father is a man of few words. Or at least, he was. Now I'm cutting scenes but trying to make sure the necessary information is still there, and he's having to say more and more at any one time, and I'm finding myself struggling to keep his voice. I guess I'll have to put it all down first, and then work on making it sound like him. It's frustrating, though, because his uniqueness of voice was one of the things I was proud of. Not having all my characters just sound sort of like me, you know?

Anyway, that's just something I'll have to work through, but I found it interesting, and what's a blog for if not for that?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Note to self

Chris is fourteen. Remember that, damnit!

Effect without cause, sub-atomic laws, scientific pause

I've been getting increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I haven't made a backup of my novel since mid-August or so. I've since rectified that.

I think I can realistically cut another eight or nine-thousand words. Beyond that, I just don't know how to do it without making the story suffer. So I'm going to cut what I think I can but start moving away from cutting to more active suck-vacuuming. (i.e., concentrating on the quality of what remains, rather than on what to take out.)

In other news, I sure can be an insufferable prig sometimes.

Hey, I see that I got my 666th visitor. Greetings, satanic portent from Arkansas!

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I've finished a round of cutting/editing/tightening up. I'm down to 103,219 words, which is still much too long. I have one or two people that I know would be interested in seeing it now, at this length, but If I'm going to have to cut another 20,000 or so words anyhow, it seems to make more sense to do that cutting before I submit to anyone. I'm going to take another look at my outline tonight and see what else I can find that could go.

On another note, I just realized that I never heard back on a story I submitted back in April. That's one frustrating thing with not doing simultaneous submissions. It takes so long for markets to get back to you that you forget all about your works that are out there. And this is at least the third story I can think of that I've never gotten a response back on. (Though at five months, it's not yet out of the question that I could get a response back before too long. I've got others that dropped off the face of the earth years ago. Including one agent's request for the full MS of Prototype. Dang it, when I spend the money to print and ship a 90,000 word MS, I'd at least like to hear back from people.)

(Before anybody mentions it, yes, I've queried the market. And on the other, older ones, yes I've long ago assumed the worst and moved on.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


I just realized that I've changed my protagonist's age back and forth so many times, I no longer remember what it is or where all the different places I've alluded to it are.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You know who I'd like to have a beer with?

I've heard a lot about how George W. Bush's success lies in the fact that people perceive him as a regular guy, someone they'd like to have a beer with. And hey, there's no arguing against taste, but I for one don't get it. I wouldn't have any particular interest in hanging out with the guy, taking in a football game or World Series of Poker or WWE or roller derby or whatever he's into. He comes across, to me, as a stereotypical frat boy (with apologies to any non-stereotypical frat boys who might happen to read this). He doesn't remind me of my buddies. My buddies and I have conversations where, whether we agree or not, at least we really probe the issues at hand, instead of just reducing them to sound bites. We don't oversimplify for each other. My buddies respect my intelligence and I respect theirs.

You know who I'd like to have a beer with?

This guy.

And that's about all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Go me.

I don't know just how rare an achievement this is, but I am apparently a finalist in that short story contest I entered. W00t!

Also, I've cut off about 15,000 words from Vanishing Act. Lots more where that came from . . .

(And folks who ask to read short stories but then never provide any sort of reaction or response shouldn't throw stones . . . or, bitch about unupdated blogs . . . or, something like that.) :P

Monday, September 1, 2008

Why can't I just be brilliant?

I have pretty well suck-vacuumed chapter one. (I totally stole that phrase from Elizabeth Bear, but it's so dang apt!) It took two rewrites to do it. I'm not talking about mere editing or cleaning up, but substantial rewriting of pages of stuff. And hey, now I have a tight little seven-page chapter where Chris's voice comes through loud and clear. I have felt a vague reluctance to show my work before, but I feel nothing like that with this chapter now.

But Lord, I hope the rest of it's easier.

Sadly, though, this brings me to the conclusion that I am not one of those lucky few who can turn out final draft quality prose on the first run-through. I had thought perhaps I was. I mean, my first drafts are pretty clean when it comes to grammar and spelling, and I do a decent job of varying sentence structure without needing to think about it too much. I have a writing style that's natural and that I like. But that's where we get to the difference I have mentioned before between merely competent prose and, you know, writing that sings, that doesn't sound amateurish. Apparently that takes actual work.


Saturday, August 30, 2008

Killing my darlings

I learned a new phrase this week. ::points up:: That's what I'm doing right now. Well, actually, right now I'm blogging about killing my darlings, because actually doing it is too hard.

And of course, my productivity has plummeted since school began. Hopefully I will reach some sort of equilibrium with that soon, and be able to be at least as productive as I was last spring. I've got too much interest in this book for me to fall off the face of the earth now.

I'm contemplating doing one of those dreaded mirror-gazing scenes. Mine would be different, of course. I'm not doing it as a cheap way of giving you a full visual without breaking POV. Nothing like, "She gazed in the mirror on her way out the door. Her long, brown hair framed her green eyes and freckled skin, and rested on the shoulders of her green turtleneck. 'Too fat,' she thought disapprovingly, despite the fact that she weighed barely over a hundred pounds." But I've killed the scene in which I established that Chris looks young for his age, and that's a fairly important plot point. So I'm thinking that he can be annoyed over a scene offstage, just before this scene, in which someone told him he looked like he was X years old, where he briefly examines his reflection in a car window, wondering if it's really true, and when it'll stop being true. That doesn't seem quite as egregious to me.

On the other hand, in a prepublished author, I'm not sure it's a good idea to even skirt by a cliché. Will editors and such be paying attention to the nuance, or will they say, "Ugh, a mirror scene. How trite!" and toss it?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Cutting: Icarus's Labyrinth goes emo on you

I needed an impartial person to help me go through my MS and find scenes I could cut. This week, my brilliant wife helped me do just that. There were some tough decisions. Some scenes I love that aren't strictly necessary. Scenes that serve a purpose, but where the purpose can be served by another scene. A whole freaking character. Luís, who went from being a very important character to being a minor character to being left out altogether. Sorry bro. I like to try to work at least one Latino character into everything I write, but now this story's just about all white.

But still, it wasn't too hard to make the cuts--on my outline.

Now I'm trying to implement those decisions. And it's not as easy as highlighting scenes and pressing the delete key. Scene one established my protagonist's age and physical appearance, and some sense of what the chip on his shoulder is. But it's too similar to scene eleven, really, and scene two has some nice, tense action that will make a good opening hook. But now I've got to find a way to convey the information that used to be in scene one. I've got to look closely at the good stuff I'm taking out and think about making the story work without any obvious gaps. Sorry for going gruesome on you, but it's the difference between having your dog put down and doing it yourself.

And now I'm back to getting up at six every morning, and staying up late grading and lesson-planning. It's finally Friday . . . and I'm exhausted.

(Say, why do places like Writertopia only make counters for counting up to a certain goal? What about those of us trying to make works shorter?)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

v 2.0 is done

It still needs polishing. And tightening. And just general shortening. Lord, does it need shortening.

(Sounds like I'm making cookies, don't it?)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Well, we all need someone we can sneer at . . .

. . . And if you want to, well you can sneer at me.

Just got in from NerdCon WorldCon. (Hey, it's like how minorities are allowed to make fun of their own group. I was there, so I can make fun of it.) Our flight landed at 1 AM, we got home at 2 AM, and at 7:30 AM I was back at work. ≥_≤ I'll probably blog about WorldCon several times, because it was a great and wild experience. Just one thought for today, though.

Throughout the week, I was struck by how naturally we tend toward building little hierarchies and ingroups and outgroups. My wife and I dressed pretty normally. While we are fans, we were also there hoping to make contacts with people who could help further our writing career, so vaguely professional attire was the order of the day. Besides, my body doesn't lend itself to costumes. But as we were heading out to lunch one of the days, we saw some yahoos in a pickup truck shout disparaging remarks at a guy in costume outside of the convention center. (And he was far from one of the more freakishly dressed people around.) The local media was about at least once or twice, and I'm sure some Colorado locals couldn't decide what to make of the freakshow that had descended upon them. Getting out and mocking them is always a good way to build up your own self-esteem, though.

I'm sure most if not all science fiction fans have had somewhat similar experiences. Heck, on my Rate-My-Teachers page, some nimrod said you shouldn't take my classes if you don't like Star Wars, when I never bring up Star Wars or science fiction myself, and, really, Star Wars and Star Trek are the least of my fannish obsessions--I'm much more about the printed word than I am about movies or television. But neither do I hide the fact that I like Science Fiction, and those of us who do seem to be a little bit threatening to those who don't, for some reason.

That's not what fascinates me, though. No boo hoo woe is us emofication here, thanks. What fascinated me was seeing the exact same dynamic played out inside the Con. I'm sure anybody who reads this blog has seen The Geek Hierarchy. Well, I kind of got to see it played out in real life. I saw fans not wearing costume point and snicker at those who were, and likewise at those who had stuffed animals about their person somewhere, and heard derogatory comments about filkers. On Thursday, I was at the bid party for Peggy Rae’s House in 2010 when a little mustachioed troll of a woman glanced at my name tag and made a derisive comment about the fact that I'm from Celebration, Florida. Hey lady, we're all freaks--you more than me, truly--why do we need to bag on each other?

It reminded me of growing up Cuban-American in Miami. In Miami, there is such a tension/rivalry/what-have-you between Latinos, African-Americans, and Jews. Miami politicians love to play us off against each other for their own gain. And hell, in the end, we're all minorities, and we all experience prejudice and discrimination. Don't we have more in common than not? I've seen prejudiced minority group members--where's the sense in that? Oh, no, all those people who bag on Cubans are wrong--except when they're talking about blacks! Seriously?!

Anyway, sorry for going Deep. I was just so thrown by nerds looking down on other nerds.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Greetings from *wheeze* *gasp* Denver

It's always wild when you plan something for months and the day finally comes. My wife and I decided to go to WorldCon like in January . . . I hope it can live up to that level of anticipation!

The thin air thing is freaky because I *don't* notice it most of the time. Then suddenly I'm short of breath and I don't know why--until my brain kicks in and I remember it's because I'm in freaking Denver. I wonder if people from Denver have issues with the air when they travel at sea level. I've lived almost all my life in Florida, where most people say it's unbearably humid--and I agree, in general. But when I've spent substantial periods of time, like more than a month, where it's less humid, even other places most people find too humid, like North Carolina, I've found it unpleasantly arid.

Anyway, that's about as much time as I'm devoting to blogging today, after spending a fortune to get out here. See ya!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Contest time

My wife convinced me to enter a short story into a contest today, and I spent all day working on that. The postmark deadline was August first, so at quarter to eleven tonight I found myself at the late night post office by the airport. Nothing like running right up against deadlines two nights in a row.

I have a great track record with writing contests . . . I won the only one I ever entered, about fifteen years ago. I'm a little afraid to put my perfect record on the line! ;)

Friday, August 1, 2008

I got something to say--okay, well, actually, no I don't

For the first time in seven months, I'm not writing.

Seven months.

It feels really weird.

I could be writing. I have ideas and all. But what I really need to be doing right now is editing. I have a completed first draft and three-quarters of a second draft, and if I don't put the time in to make it better, it will be just a great big writing exercise. I also think it's a good idea to let my story ideas ferment a bit, so that when I start again, I'll be creative and ready to go.

But it still feels weird.

Post-Adrenal Collapse

I just shot off my story submission for an anthology that's in the works, less than ten minutes before the deadline. I had the idea months ago, and I've been working solidly on it for weeks, and just finished last night. I spend today furiously editing. After at least a week in deathmarch mode, I feel a strange sort of restlessness. I've been getting to bed at 4, 6, 7 am. Now there's no reason not to go sleep . . . but I can't bring myself to.

It's a horror story, set in Puerto Rico in 1961, with Clinical Vampirism and all kinds of other fun stuff. To do my research, I've been googling some sick shit, so if you never hear from me again, the FBI probably has me, 'kay?

That's the thing about writing a horror story, although to an extent, it's true for all stories. You really expose yourself. It's hard, sometimes, to show someone a story, because everything in it came from you. If what's in it is vile, people might look at you and wonder at the vileness within you. Not just in horror--I wrote a scene with my bad guy in Vanishing Act where I let him be a real dick, and my First Reader was a bit taken aback by it. But I feel like my story is more compelling when I dig deep into myself, when I take that chance and expose myself. If nothing else, hopefully my antagonists are more compelling when I do that.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What the hell do I know?

I keep finding myself giving advice on writing, and I can't help but think that it's more than a little bit ludicrous. I'm not a published writer--talk about the blind leading the blind! And yet, I know so much more than I did a year ago. In Randy Ingermanson's terminology, I think I've gone from being a freshman to being a junior, and I can see how hopelessly clueless I used to be. I'm a little like a new religious convert now, and I just want to share some of what I've learned. Much of what I've learned I'd need a bigger soapbox for, though, and so I just give tidbits here and there. I've also come to realize that you aren't ready, at first, to learn everything. You can't get it all in one shot. Which is too bad.

Not everyone's path is the same, but I find myself looking at people who have done less writing and less research than I have and judging where they are in terms of my own progress, because it's the only ruler I have to go by. I try to give advice that would have been useful to me at that stage, and to withhold advice I would have found discouraging. My truths may not be other people's Truths, but they're all I have to go by.

One of my personal truths is that you're almost certainly not going to become an author if you kind of like to write and you write maybe three or four times a year. Write (virtually) every day gets to seeming like cliché advice, but actually, it doesn't go far enough. You have to become obsessed. The sort of person who would give advice despite having no credentials because you just can't get enough of this crap. Because when you're not writing, you're reading about writing, or thinking about writing, or planning to write, or dreaming about writing. My truth is that until writing consumes you, you're just a dilettante. My truth is that the differences between proficient prose and professional prose are so subtle that you're unlikely to pick up on them unless you're that obsessed. Another one of my personal truths that might be debilitating for other wannabes is that when you're in your teens or your twenties, there's a very good chance that you don't have the life experiences or reading background to make anything you write terribly compelling or original. Obviously there are plenty of younger authors who give the lie to this, but it's true for me. If you're like most of us, though, and not like, say, Christopher Paolini, then how on earth can you be expected to keep any sort of obsession with writing when you probably aren't producing anything salable?

You know, I probably can't do any harm by giving discouraging advice. I heard a lot of this before, and it just rolled off of my back because I wasn't at a stage where I could grasp the truth of it. For every "Write every day," I had a "Yeah, but." Screw that. Let the dishes pile up in the sink, stop watching television or playing video games, get less sleep, stop exercising, feed your family TV dinners, and write every freaking day. But until I started living it, it was just a platitude. Similarly, nuts and bolts advice about linking verbs and exposition and stuff like that was just stuff I heard but didn't absorb. Maybe we don't absorb lessons until we're ready for them. It's all just so much noise until then.

By day, I'm a teacher. Sharing information is in my nature; it's just what I do. So I expect I probably won't stop giving writing advice; hopefully it won't be too long before I have the credentials to back it up. Until then, hey, at least I know I'm faintly ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back from Readercon

My wife and I have been to FX, to several Star Trek/Xena/Star Wars cons, and to one writers' conference, but this was our first Con for readers of SF. What a rush! We met some people whose work we adore, got to hang out with some of our favorite authors, bothered a couple of editors, and met a lot of really cool people who are not "in the business" but simply love science fiction and fantasy, just like we do. Next up is Denvention in a couple of weeks!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Finish Line

Aaaaand I'm finally done with my first draft!

My second draft should be finished soon, because I've been working through it only a few chapters behind my first. Then my third and fourth will take a bit more time.

I am ready to be channeling my writing energy in a different direction for a while.

In addition to revising like mad now, I have a short story idea I want to find time to work on.

Great All-Star Game Tonight. As with my novel, though, I'm ready for it to be over. ;)

I leave tomorrow for ReaderCon by way of New York. Yay Spirit Airlines! I'll also be taking in a Yankees game on Monday (IIRC), so I get to say my own goodbye to The Stadium.

You know, the difference in polish between my epilogue and my opening is staggering. God I hope I can bring the beginning up to the level of the end. I learned so much through the writing of this, my second novel. I think this one will be good enough by the time I'm done with it to be publishable, as opposed to my first novel, which shall never see the light of day. Even if it doesn't find a home, though, I've learned enough to make the process worthwhile. I can't wait to begin the next one. Okay, that's a lie. I can wait. But I do have a rough idea and I'm excited to begin the process again.

First, though, I've got to chop Vanishing Act down by 20,000 words or so. At least.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Now I don't feel so bad about being a harsh critter

Paul Cornell on writing:

SFX: What one tip would you give to a new writer, inspired to put pen to paper for the first time?
Paul Cornell:
"I've got one sentence that sums it up: 'it is your job to seek out harsh criticism of your work and change it as a result'. That, frankly, is hideously painful. But boxers don't get good by avoiding being hit. If an editor, or someone else, starts offering you criticism, listen, make notes,

I'm not immune from being wounded by crits or from trying to explain why the critter got it wrong; that's something I need to work on.

But when I crit for someone else I don't hold back, and sometimes I've felt that I've hurt someone who asked for a crit but really just wanted an affirmation. I really believe that I'm doing the best thing for a writer that I know how when I'm a harsh critter. To that end, I really like the boxing analogy.

(And yeah, I try to balance criticism with praise, to soften the blow. I'm not saying I don't. But in the end, praise is most useful as a pep pill to keep a person going. Criticism, though, is what's going to help any of us get better.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I Has a Pitch

Many adolescents feel invisible, like nobody sees or notices them. But for fourteen-year-old Chris Westbrook, it’s literally true. Chris has the ability to blend in, to completely escape notice when he wants to. When his drifter father and his “Uncle” Danny, a petty con-man with delusions of grandeur, find out about his ability, they are only too happy to use Chris in their grifts. After Chris is forced to take part in one particularly nasty scam, he decides he must get free of the two men--but not before trying to beat them to one final score.

Vanishing Act, my completed 100,000 word Young Adult Modern Fantasy novel, is the story of Chris’s struggle to escape from an abusive life and find a real family--one rooted in love, not opportunism. It will appeal to readers of all ages who enjoy stories with a speculative fiction element about young people trying to take control of their own lives, such as those who enjoyed Steven Gould’s Jumper and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong.

In fifteen years as a teacher of students ranging from sixth grade to college freshmen, I have worked with nearly two thousand young people and developed a sense for what issues matter most to them, such as control of their lives, their bonds within their families and communities, and their sense of justice. I believe Vanishing Act addresses these themes in a way adolescents will find compelling.

I also has one more chapter, but I've got to run. I'll blog about it later.

Only the epilogue left to go!

EDIT: Fixed the formatting glitches. Dang Blogger's interface can be annoying at times.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Ding-Dong the Warlock's Dead

The title of this post has nothing to do with my book . . . folks who know me IRL may get it, and that's all I have to say about that. ;)

One more chapter done! One more, plus epilogue, to go! Craploads of revision to follow! Exclamation points for all!!!!!1!

At some point, I need to post a list of all the things I've been putting off until my draft is done, so I can keep them straight. Most of them will have to take place more or less at the same time, so I'll need a place to remind myself.

Thursday I'm helping to facilitate a discussion (how's that for eduspeak?) about query letters even though I'm unpublished and know only what I read in books and online. I reckon I should have a draft of my own query, so I plan to spend tomorrow working on it. What the hell--I should post it here. Of course, I really really want to finish the damn thing before worrying about a query letter, so I desperately want to knock out the last chapter y todo tonight. That should be doable--the last few chapters have been so short. Not easy, because I wanted to pull off the climax right, but not really long either. I still feel like I have plenty of writing left in me today. Now that I've hit the climax, everything left is pretty much resolution, and I'm hoping that will be a lot easier to compose.

We'll see.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Too many pots on the stove

In the last week I've written chapter 22, begun chapter 23, and then been distracted. For some reason, I haven't felt like blogging. Oh yeah. Distracted.

Strange Horizon's submission window opened this week. I had this thought of subnmitting "War Crimes" just minutes after midnight Utah time, but it took me a couple days more than I expected to get it ready. First I had technical issues--my printer suddenly and inexplicably deciding not to work, until it had slept overnight, and then me losing my stylus--and then I had to work on chopping the story down to get under their maximum word count of 9,000. The printer . . . *sigh* It's a beautiful printer when it works. It's an OKI 3400, but it seems to have odd little connectivity glitches from time to time, that are a major pain to figure out. Even when I finally get it working, as often as not it's a mystery to me what finally did the trick. In this case, spending the night shut off seemed to get the printer going again. Maybe it perceived it as a warning. And then the stylus . . . a tablet PC's pretty useless without one! I spent an hour searching for it before it occurred to me to look in the pocket of the jeans I had taken off earlier.

Cutting "War Crimes" down has been eye-opening. I have put so much work into that story these past six months, and tightened it up quite a bit. I think I was so uncommonly pleased with the story when I first wrote it that I couldn't see the places where it needed to be improved. As I went through it this time, I found lots of places where I could tighten it up, remove redundant verbal diarrhea, and so on. I also found a lot of repetitive phrasing by using CTRL-F to count up how many times I used this or another specific phrase. That was eye-opening. And a bit disheartening: if it takes this much effort to clean up a short story I think is my best work, will I even be capable of tightening up my novel in the same way? I thought it would take an hour or two to get "War Crimes" ready to go out the door, and it took about three days. Hopefully the payoff will be worth it. But I don't know if I can give Vanishing Act anything like that close a reading.

Also, I haven't really gotten started looking for beta readers, but I worry that I'll get a lot of people who want to do me a favor but don't really have time to stick to the reading.

I'm debating taking a break from writing to try to read through as many of the Hugo nominees as I can, since votes are due in a couple of days. I wouldn't vote in a category in which I had not read all the contenders. No matter what, there will be categories I abstain in. On the other hand, I'm so close to the end and just twitching with every day that passes with me not finished. And even once I finish that first/second draft, there's so much I have to do before it's ready for anyone else's eyes.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

On Polish

I'm done with chapter 21--sort of. I ended up splitting Chapter 20 after all, because it was just so damn long. So not much new writing to report.

I do seem to have found my attention and motivation, though.

I was oddly emotional last night. I don't know if it was my emotions mirroring those of Chris, my protagonist, or if it was something else. It made it hard to write, though.

I finally got my hands on Dwight Swain's book that everyone swears by. It's almost thirty years old, hard to get, and written in a rather twee style. It also tends to spend a lot of time in generalities before getting down to specifics. But get down to specifics it does, eventually. I'm on chapter three and I found some good, concrete, practical advice that I've no doubt heard before, but here it was presented with explanations for why these techniques work. It may be that it was the right advice reaching me at the right time--maybe I'm ready to learn this now, and wasn't before.

I spent several hours editing chapters 20 and 21 with an eye toward the techniques I read about last night. I don't want to get too specific until I start to get feedback that notices the difference, because I'll feel silly if I make a big deal about it and it turns out to be nothing. But basically it's about making your writing more active and less passive . . . about the momentum of prose and how to keep it going.

I think I'm pretty proficient with words, and yet, I generally feel that there's some element of polish I can't put my hands on that the writers I love have that I lack. I've got a good vocabulary, a good grasp of grammar, a good ear for sentence variety, and yet somehow the passages that sing only come along occasionally, and I haven't figured out how to make those less of a minority. It may be that some of the things Swain talks about in the second chapter of his book are the pieces I'm missing. After reading this chapter, I was looking through my manuscript and seeing all sorts of places where I committed the sins that Swain says stop a narrative. Perhaps I've been writing a lot of passages that are technically sound, but I haven't grasped how to hook and keep readers. Maybe I just learned some of the keys I didn't even know were there.

I hope so.

I'll report back as I get more of a sense.

I just noticed that every paragraph in this post begins with "I." Huh.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Easily Distra--Hey, what's that?!

It's taken me nearly a week to finish my first draft of Chapter 20, and I've found myself really struggling to stay on task for some reason. Twenty was full of more logistical challenges. All my characters are converging on the same spot (Rome, GA, if you must know) and I've had to work out the timing--down to the hour now, and not just the day--and keep track of what everyone's doing at any given time. (Not to mention the weather!)

I passed a hundred thousand words. I wasn't sure what I should do with the graphic at that point. I didn't want it to say 100%, because I damn sure ain't done. On the other hand, I'm sure not aiming for 115,000 words. (Great. Now I need to stress about my novel being too long.) I know of some material I want to take out, so it will eventually get shorter, but for now I guess it's getting longer still.

I have two characters who are not detectives doing some amateur detective work, and that has made the writing a struggle, because it's one step further removed from the action. But sometimes this sort of thing must happen, no? I should go looking to see how writers of detective fiction deal with stake-outs and such.

I can't even call Chapter 20 done yet, because I started keeping a list of details to go back and add when I was done.

We live in a golden age, you know? For writers and for all of us. Chris, my protagonist, hitchhikes from Marietta to Rome, so what did I do? Used Google Street View to travel most of the area that he would have been walking between rides, to make sure I got it right. Meanwhile, my antagonists and some secondary characters all drive from Anderson, SC, to Rome, so I used Google Earth to plot a route and have it animated for me. Google Earth has gotten so smooth over the years that it really was like watching a view from a small plane or helicopter. (It also took half the morning to play the animation, but, whatever.) Isn't it amazing what we can do these days?

My wife is done with her draft. Color me green. Still, I'm not too far be--Is that a butterfly?!

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Finally finished chapter 19, which I'd hoped to finish Wednesday. I've been catwaxing in a big way this week; I'm not sure why. It's always been my experience before that the writing gets easier down the stretch, and for the most part that's been the case this time too, but I struggled a bit with this chapter. A lot of that is the need for research. Research takes time. There were a lot of logistical challenges to be ironed out in this chapter as well. How does person 1 get from point A to point B, what time is it when he gets there, how will he overcome this obstacle, and so forth.

My protagonist is, for the moment, a runaway. I feel some unease at the possibility that I might be glamorizing running away, but we don't write stories about characters with happy lives in which nothing happens, neh? To expiate my guilt, I've worked in phone numbers, 1-800-RUNAWAY and 1-800-4-A-CHILD, but I'm not sure how smoothly that comes off, or if it's totally obvious that I'm trying to work a PSA into my novel. We'll see if that stays in.

As part of my catwaxing, I've discovered Yahoo Answers. I've long said that I love teaching so much I'd do it for free, if I didn't need to put food on the table. Now I get to prove it! I'm such a nerd.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On author blogs . . . in moderation

I finished another chapter! *bounce*

This was an important chapter, because it provides the motivations for what all the characters will be doing from here on out. I hope I pulled it off well.

I'm about ready to start working on my query letter. Not ready to begin querying, mind you, but to give some thought to the letter. The leader of my local writers' group asked me if I would lead a discussion/training/critique on query letters a month from now. What the hell do I know? Just what I read online. I'm not any kind of expert until I write a query that, you know, lands an agent or something. But I have a big mouth and love to point people to the resources I have found, so I guess I walked into that one.

I read something on a blog--I can't remember if it was Kristin Nelson's or Lucienne Diver's, and I think I was browsing old posts, so it could be hard to find out which--that talked about how you should not blog about your book once an agent starts shopping it around, because you'll undercut his or her bargaining position with editors if you blog about rejections, how long s/he's had it, and so forth. Makes sense, but it got me to thinking afterward that any blogging about a WIP--unless it was already sold and being written on deadline--had that potential. After all, if I finish writing it in June and get an agent who's still shopping it around in March, that will send the same message, no? Oh, well. She didn't mention blogging before you had an agent, so I guess I'll take my chances. It's not like it matters--my WIP will sell in a heartbeat and it won't be an issue, neh? ;)

Speaking of lost blog posts, I read a post by some guy about how he uses hypnagogia to tap into his creativity, and it resonated with me, because it reminded me a lot of what I do (though I didn't know there was a fancy name for it), but when I went to look for it again, I couldn't for the life of me remember where I'd read it. *sigh*

And then there's lost blog comments. I posted two comments on Lynn Viehl's blog today, one that was reasonably thought out and one that was a throwaway. She moderates her comments, so neither showed up right away. A few hours later, my second post, the brief one, showed up, but not my first one. Lost in the ether?

I'm not sure how I feel about the practice of moderating comments. There are two blogs I read that do this: Viehl's and SF Novelists. On SF Novelists, because they're several writers on a single blog, it can sometimes take days for a comment to show up. I find it very off-putting to wait for days for my expression of sympathy or whatever to be deemed worthy of appearing on the page. On other blogs I read, I see dialogues break out between the various different comment-writers, and hey, sometimes even between comment-writers and the blog author. Isn't that the point? A little back in forth, instead of the stream of thoughts only flowing in one direction? But how can any sort of dialogue break out when comments have to sit in a holding pattern waiting to be approved?

Of course, the luxury of being a complete unknown is that nobody is showing up on my blog just be be insulting. I've dealt with generic trolls on other internet forums, but never my very own stalker-troll. I can see where that would be hurtful, a drain on psychic resources, what have you. So who knows how I'd feel if I had that experience. I know Elizabeth Bear keeps threatening to shut down commenting, and Steven Gould has had at least one troll pop up on his site. Is the benefit of shutting down trolls worth the price of shutting down conversation, though?

My instinct is to feel that it isn't. We'll see how I feel about it if the shoe is ever on the other foot, though.

Say, where the heck does that expression come from?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling


I wrote about three thousand words today, and finished chapter 17. I'm really excited about where I am in the plot right now. Things are hurrying toward the climax, and there's some exciting stuff going on now--and in the coming chapters too.

I plan to spend tomorrow writing. It's my Father's Day gift to myself: time to write. I'd like to get a scene or so ahead of my pace so I feel like I can take a day off, maybe go out and have some fun, and not feel guilty about it.

For now, I'm Good Tired (a Harry Chapin reference) so I'm keeping this post short.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer, and the living is easy

So I can finally concentrate on writing without that pesky day job interzzzzzzzz . . . Uh? Oh, sorry.

After some much needed R&R, and some even more needed contemplation on Where The Hell My Plot Is Going, I'm making progress again. For the second time in as many weeks, I've re-outlined the rest of Vanishing Act. Or maybe I completed a drastic re-outlining that I was only halfway through last week, though I didn't realize it at the time. My stalkee (I don't know whether it's better to give credit where credit is due or to avoid the appearance of name-dropping but the name is elsewhere in this blog) was kind enough to point out about a half-dozen holes in my remaining plot, and rather than fix those, I came up with a way to streamline the ending, eliminating a lot of them in the process. It also improves some stuff she hadn't even commented on--the fact that my climax was being brought on by a very minor character, instead of by the actions of my principals. I wrote that minor character out of the story altogether, replotted the rest of it, and I feel like I've got something a lot tighter and more manageable now. I wrote a lot last night and this morning, and it's coming so much more easily now. I finished chapter 16 today, which is why I'm giving myself permission to spend time blogging. ;)

I'm actually looking forward to doing a big revising sweep once this draft is done . . . finding ways to make my language less clunky and to incorporate all the different good tips I've been getting from authors' blogs and from the online class I'm taking. I think I can be done with this draft in a little over three weeks without pushing too hard. Hopefully if I push just a bit harder, I can substantially decrease that. Then the challenge will be coming up with readers.

All of the various readers that Cor had--including her so-called crit group--have pretty much quit keeping up. There's nothing wrong with her novel--I think it's a hell of a lot more marketable than mine is--but people are busy. They have their lives to live and even those that see themselves as writers are not necessarily as devoted to the idea of getting stuff done now at all costs, with no excuses. So what are my chances of avoiding the same fate? I can probably get a dozen people or so to read the first chapter, but I'll be lucky if I have one (besides Cor, of course) still reading by the twelfth.

I got some exciting ideas for my short story nugget. I hope I have it in me to pull this together, and that I can find the time without sacrificing progress on Vanishing Act.

In other news, our air conditioner is crapping out. Florida in June without functional air conditioning . . . fun. I don't know where the money to fix it is going to come from. Hell, I don't know where the money for WorldCon is going to come from, and I very badly want to go.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The calm before the storm . . .

In three minutes I give my first final of the spring. For now, though, all my grades are done. These stress-free moments are far too fleeting.

I've still been writing, though, even if I've been too busy to update here. Still, I'm embarrassed and reproached by the length of time between updates, lately. That should get better within a week, though.

I've spent my writing time this week doing tons of revisions on chapters twelve through fifteen--fifteen was actually more of a rewrite than a revision. I've also re-outlined the remainder of my novel to tighten it up a bit. Hopefully that compression won't cause narrative problems--as in, is enough time in the story passing for these events to take place?

My subconscious mind's tendency to not let me write scenes until I fix whatever is wrong with what I want to write is rapidly ceasing to be charming and becoming frustrating. I'm grateful that it helps me avoid some mistakes, but I wish it could point out solutions as well as problems. Grrrr . . .

I'm taking an online writing class (sponsored by the RWA, of all things, but taught by Linnea Sinclair) at the same time that I give and grade finals. I must be insane.

(You know, those romance writers are a cool bunch. I wish I had it in me to write in that genre--they're so supportive of each other. At least, that's the way it appears from the outside.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Still . . . *gasp* . . . alive

Work is killing me . . . two nights in a row going to sleep after 2 am. (And that's all I'm going to say about the time). But still I've managed to find some time to write, if only a little bit--fifteen chapters done so far! Senior grades are due Thursday and my professional development binder is due more or less now, and then I'll get a (relatively) quiet week or so before it all starts again, but for underclassmen.

People don't realize the extent to which the last week of the school year is hell for a high school teacher. (And if you teach a mix of seniors and underclassmen, it's two weeks of hell.)

But this blog is about writing, not about teaching. So let me talk about that. Once again I had the experience of finding a scene impossible to write until I realized that I was keeping a character from acting consistently with his motivations. It's freaky and awesome all at once how the story won't let itself be railroaded. If I'm doing something wrong, I just sit there, paralyzed, unable to write.

I had another cool (to me) experience last Friday. I was on a plane and hoping to take advantage of the time to get some writing done. This was when I realized that I had totally failed to consider my protagonist's mental state and motivation in the scene I was struggling with, and had the epiphany that made it possible. But I still wasn't ready to write. I needed to re-envision the scene now that I better understood how my protagonist was feeling. So I daydreamed, basically, trying to get in his head. Well, Chris, my protagonist, had just been through a pretty awful experience, something humiliating and heart-breaking. As I put myself in his shoes, I found myself becoming more outwardly angry and sad. Intellectually I knew these were not my emotions, but I found myself genuinely feeling Chris's, and I had this sudden realization of what I must look like if anybody happened to look my way--I bet it was scary!

Anyway, I'm probably the only person who finds that interesting, but that's the whole reason I started this blog. So I could gush about quasi-mystical experiences like that without boring anybody who might find him- or herself my captive audience. Those are the moments I'm finding astounding and rewarding. I need a blog label for the posts that have these rambling reflection. Maybe "gushical."

In other news: Fifteen days! Fifteen days until vacation! :)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Torturing Characters, Students, and Prose

I finally finished chapter 14, a week later than I'd hoped. 26 intense days of work left before vacation, and I hope I can juggle both my day job and my writing and not fall any further off the pace. I know I'll be able to write faster once I'm on vacation, but I don't want to count on that.

I know part of why this chapter was hard to write was my work demands. Every week from here on out has at least one big task that I must accomplish. Formal observation tomorrow, write finals by Friday, finalize Professional Development Plan by the end of the next week, then grade senior exams, and then everyone else's finals. And, of course, the usual stuff. But I think this chapter may also have been intrinsically hard to write . . . it might not be all about the day job.

This chapter, I took Chris, my protagonist, out of a setting that was tense because of what he was bringing to it, but, in many ways, idyllic. Idyll is not the stuff of good stories, so he had to go. But it was hard, you know? I really like the characters he was spending time with, and don't like the characters he's with now--as people, that is. The conflict is getting ratcheted up as I head for the ending. Hopefully now that the transition is done, it will get easier.

I've been giving thought to where I can cut. I think the bad guy that sets the plot in motion needs to appear earlier . . . like about five to seven thousand words earlier. I'm pretty sure I can spare the wordage, so I'm looking to cut stuff. (I suppose I could also move some stuff that comes before this point to after it, though.) I think I see where the cuts can come. I'm also finding that the later chapters are getting shorter, which I think, at this point, is a good thing. To me it suggests that the pace is picking up, which it should at this point. I don't think I need to worry about my novel being too short at this point.

I spent several hours last night waxing the cat by thinking about a story concept for Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas's new horror anthology. I'm desperately trying to finish this novel by August, so what the heck am I doing thinking about other stories, but an open call for submissions for an anthology like this seems like a golden opportunity. And I have an idea I think may be unique. Do I have the horror chops to pull it off, though? Therein lies the question . . .

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I cheated on my novel this week.

I had all sorts of out-of-town company last week--including the in-laws, who are still here--and I'm still struggling to meet my writing goals for last week, so, in order to still get to feel some sense of accomplishment, I worked on my short stories over the weekend. I revised "War Crimes" and resubmitted it, and pulled out an old short I'd never submitted and found a market to submit it to.

I think the changes I made to "War Crimes" make it stronger. They help avoid one source of confusion and they make the ending stronger. I'm pleased with the commentary I got from Baen's Bar. That said, I don't think it's going to find a home there. It doesn't seem to be generating any interest. I think a problem with the model over there is it discourages interest in longer stories. People will read a 9,000 word story that has already been vetted for quality, but not so much an unpublished one by a stranger. So almost nobody reads it, and if almost nobody reads it, how can it possibly generate the buzz necessary to get published? They seem to be looking for short little action stories, not long morality studies with literary pretensions.

Of course, it would help if their site could stay up for 24 hours straight.

The other story I submitted was "Unintended Consequences." Yeah, that's a terribly trite title; I wish I could think of a better one. And it's the dreaded time-travel story, which makes it doubly cliché. But it's not a bad little story, I think. It's not really a trunk story, because it's not like it has made the rounds and been rejected; I literally have never submitted this story anywhere before. So typical of what I'm trying to move past . . . I've written so much stuff that I've either never submitted or only submitted once or twice. It's hard to motivate myself for that side of the art. Anyway, UC is a less ambitious/pretentious story. It's just a good old-fashioned (or, at least, old fashioned) sci-fi story about scientists and the uses/misuses to which they put their discoveries. It's got what I think is a nice twist in it, and a pleasantly frisson-ish ending. And unlike almost everything else I write, it's short. I hear OSC's IGMS is looking for short science fiction--apparently they're just inundated with fantasy--how's that for a turning of the tables?--so hopefully this will be right up their alley.

Not to wax too lyrical about the process of writing--but then again, that's the whole reason I have this blog: so that I can hide these raves where nobody who isn't interested can see them--but I've really been struck by how much better my life has been since I rededicated myself to actively pursuing my dream. Better in ways totally unrelated to writing. I've noticed I'm less stressed at work. I'm not investing myself in it twelve to sixteen hours a day anymore: eight is all you get, sorry. Whatever doesn't get done today will get done tomorrow. Or at the last minute. And that's okay. But the biggest thing I've noticed is that I've lost weight. I haven't made any effort to lose it; I haven't dieted or exercised, at least not consciously. It took me until later to piece this together, but here's what I realized: I tend to snack when I'm stressed or bored. When I write, I am neither of these things, and thus, I haven't been feeding my face as much. The weight loss hasn't gotten drastic yet, but it has gotten to the point where stuff that just barely wasn't fitting now just fits, and stuff that was just fitting before now fits better. How cool would it be if this kept up?!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Done . . . ?

I think I've finished chapter thirteen. I had one more scene I'd planned to write, but it seems anticlimactic after what happens at the end of the last scene. The last scene seems like the perfect hook into another chapter, so it feels like the right place to cut off. I haven't set that decision in stone, but right now it seems like the last one.

I don't do those cute little "how are you feeling today" blog smilies, but if I did, it's be an exhausted-looking one. I really need to get more sleep.

I wrote most of thirteen on a tablet PC. I could definitely get used to that. I type faster than I handwrite, but I stop so much to think, I don't know that it really makes a difference. And the tablet can be used places where an ordinary laptop would be awkward. Like in the car.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Oh, and . . .

Something else I forgot. You know, I read that you need to give your critiques a week or more to sink in, so that you become thick-skinned enough to get the value out of them. I went back and had a good look at the critiques of "War Crimes," and, you know, I really did get some good indications of how to improve the story. When people talk about what's going on in the story, or how to improve it, they may not be spot on, but what they are spot on about is what's not working for them. What I mostly saw when I went back and looked again were places where what I was trying to accomplish was not clear. So someone might say, "This seems pointless, get rid of it." Well it's not pointless, but what it does mean is that I haven't made clear why it's there. So getting rid of it may not be the answer, but improving it is. At this moment, I'm much more positive about the whole Baen's Universe slush pile experience than I was when I first got my feedback. I can see where I got something of value. Previous readers have enjoyed the story, and improved it in minor ways, but they haven't given me as many ways to substantially improve it as I now feel I got from the three people who read my story over there.

And work rears its ugly head

This week my day job reasserted itself, and reminded me that writing is cool, but I still need to please The Man if I want to keep food on the table. Well, big surprise: there are only seven weeks left in the school year. Things were bound to get stressful. I had hoped to get ahead of schedule on my writing one of these weeks; at this point I'll be lucky not to fall behind. I'm behind on everything else, including sleep. ≥_≤

But hey! I'm caught up on lesson plans!

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Chapter Twelve went long on me. I figured I'd have it done by midweek, but then this scene I thought would only take six pages ballooned to thirteen as the characters did stuff I hadn't expected and as I realized certain things had to happen.

Not to sound too mystical, but I really am feeling that my characters have input into the process. I had a scene last chapter I just could not write, until I figured out it was because one of the characters simply would not behave the way I intended to have him behave. I fixed that, and the scene poured out. It's like they're in my brain and they have the power to lock up my fingers. Also I'll be going along, writing, kind of stream-of-consciousness (except with, you know, punctuation ;) ) and a character will say or do something because it flows out of me, because it just feels right, you know? But I hadn't planned on it beforehand, and whatever they say or do ends up having ramifications.

Plotters aren't any less creative or mystical than pantsers. They just have a lot of those moments before actually writing all the nitty-gritty stuff down.

After one negative and one lukewarm critique of "War Crimes," I finally got one reader who totally got it and dug it! Now, I know, these are supposed to be critiques, not reviews. So I shouldn't be valuing the positive ones above the critical ones. I don't learn anything if I only listen to the people who praise me. But this guy was the only guy who seemed to get what I was trying to do! Who seemed to get that there was a lot of deliberate ambiguity, and seemed to understand that the real story wasn't about the war or the aliens or whatever, but about Jorge Vega's moral cowardice, and so the things that didn't seem to relate to the war or to the aliens were in fact not irrelevant, they were about the real story. Again I'll remind myself that it's foolish to only listen to the people who praise me, but damnit, it was nice to have someone read something I thought was special and seem to agree. Anyway, I haven't replied to any of the critiques yet. I should get on that.

But right now I need a break.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Progress again

I finished chapter eleven this afternoon. 225 manuscript pages, which doesn't mean much, but it makes me feel good. Page-counts are more tangible to me than word-counts.

Eleven was tough because it had a lot of little scenes, which feels like a lot of start and stop to me. I know lots of writers set a quota for themselves of so many pages or so many words or so many hours in a given period of time, but for me the basic unit is the scene. I prefer not to stop writing in the middle of a scene, and when I finish one, I usually need some recharging time before I'm ready to write the next one. If I were ever setting daily quotas for myself instead of weekly quotas (which seem to work better with the work schedule) I think it would be along the lines of a scene a day. Days with short scenes would just be easy days. Big deal. Vanishing Act has about 78 scenes, so that would be about two and a half months, which seems to be about par for the course as far as time from plot to manuscript (for those of us that plot in advance, anyway).

Monday I go back to work. I am so not looking forward to it. Having this week to just write (and think about writing) has been wonderful. What a luxury it would be to be able to live like this all the time. (Since I'm forcing myself to write whether I go to a day job or not, I mean.)

I think I've started to put my finger on what's making this novel fly by so much better than the last one. I feel like somewhere about a month or so after I started serious work on VA, a switch got turned. I should be so lucky as to have this switch stay on for the rest of my life. Writing, all of a sudden, has become a lot easier for me than it was before. I think some lessons I'd heard over and over again finally started sinking in, and I no longer have so much of that lost, what the hell do I do now? angst at the beginning of scenes. When a scene is hard to write at first, I have some tricks now that help me play with it until I find the handle I need on it.

I'm not saying that my quality is that much better. I mean, I hope to hell that it is and I'd like to think so. But I don't know how qualified I am to judge that, in the moment. But what I do believe is that the swings in my quality are narrower. My best now may not be any better than my best a year or five ago. But my worst now is light years better than my worst was, even one year ago.

That being said, I'm not looking forward to the plot twists that are coming in VA. I'm about to put Chris through some unpleasant times. This mostly-pleasant interlude in his life ends "tomorrow" (in narrative time).

Thank God I don't have to start writing that stuff tonight.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Nothing like having the first reviewer have not a single positive thing to say about the story you think is the best writing you've ever done in your life to throw cold water on the notion that you might really be a writer.

I should do some work on Vanishing Act, since I have time, but, you know what? I don't much feel like writing now, for some reason. I reckon I'll take the girls out and see a movie. Spiderwick looks fairly good.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Submitted "War Crimes"

I submitted "War Crimes," the story of mine I'm proudest of, to Baen's Universe's online slush pile. Now I feel like a presidential candidate awaiting early returns. While I waited, I read through some of the other submissions and thought, I'm not totally out of my league here. Ew, wait, that's not humble and people like humble. I don't mean I thought I was better than people. A decade and a half of no publications attests that I'm not. Just that I didn't feel unworthy to even approach the slush pile.

I really like that you get to submit and get critiqued at the same time. Nobody comes away completely empty-handed, it seems. Even if they don't end up buying your story, you get a crit out of it.

I intend to crit some of the other stories there while I'm killing time, but I'll wait until I start to get some responses of my own, just to know if I have any business whatsoever telling anybody else how to write. See? The old insecurity always raises its head, no matter how cocky I get.

But at the risk of sounding cocky again--and it's not, it's just the opposite, you'll see--I reread "War Crimes" today and was blown away. Not that I think I'm so good, but that I don't know where the hell that story came from. Even if nobody ever publishes it, if I could write like that every day, I would be beyond ecstatic. There's all these neat places where something early in the story resonates beautifully with something later, and I think, how the hell did I do that? If I could write like that every day, I'd feel legit. I'd feel like I'm not a pretentious knob calling myself a writer, regardless of whether I ever sell a work. Because that was a story I'd like to read.

But I can't write like that. I seem to have one flash of brilliance every two or three years, at best. I'm sure the conventional advice is to keep trying, and of course I will do so. But damn.

I've got a handful of other stories sitting around in my hard drive, but I'm going to wait on them a bit. I'm so impressed with the way Baen seems to work, with the fact that I can get a crit, if nothing else, that I'm inclined to give them first dibs on my stories.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Finished ten tonight

No more wordcounts in these posts; I'm just going to start using those writertopia icons. I can't actually join Writertopia, since I'm unpublished, but that's okay. I wouldn't want to be a part of any club that wouldn't have me anyhow.

It's always interesting when I don't write for several days and then pick it up again. There's this little fear in the back of my head that the muse won't be there when I return, and this palpable relief when the words start flowing again. It helps a lot that this wasn't a hard chapter to write. It was fixing to be, but then I was able to put some of the advice I got this weekend to good use. I basically saw that the reason I was unmotivated to begin this chapter was because there was no real conflict in the opening scene. Once I fixed that, I was on my way.

One of my main characters is a huge Atlanta Braves fan (I'm not; I'm a Yankees fan) and it's beginning to rub off on my protagonist. It's interesting to see them take on personalities of their own.

Before I hit chapter eleven, I plan to spend tomorrow, and maybe even part of tonight if I get ambitious, pulling up some of those old stories I stopped sending around and looking for homes for them. Now, unlike Vanishing Act, where I'm trying things I haven't tried before, sending these stories around is just a matter of going back on the slush piles, so I have no real reason to expect better results from this round of submissions. Except--you know?--I do think some of these are pretty decent stories. Sooner or later I'll find someone who agrees . . . right?

There is a cute fluffy dog in VA, and Cor, the dog lover, told me in no uncertain terms that nothing better happen to this dog. As if. I'm writing a warm and fuzzy YA thing. I'm not going to kill a dog! But now, just to tease her, I keep dropping off stuff for her to proof with "Lionel exploded" inserted in random spots, or other kinds of over-the-top obviously joking demises. I'm thinking I'll start looking for ways to put those in the real text, like "Lionel exploded into his arms" or some such. Hey, if you can't have fun, why write, neh?

So I finally crossed the big 50K today. It's only taken me, what, two months of solid work? And I'm, at best, halfway done. And to do it I've neglected everything in sight, pretty much. I try to imagine what it would be like to write 50,000 words in a month, as in nanowrimo, and I just can't. I'm glad that works for some people, but not for me. That whole "Give yourself permission to write crap" mentality doesn't work for me, because I don't find that I get anything salvageable when I "let myself" write crap. Usually, when something is hard to write, for me, it's for a good reason. There's something wrong with the way I've conceived a scene or something. And so if I bear down and just write it, I'll have to throw it away and rewrite it anyway. I think their whole philosophy lends itself to people who don't already enjoy writing, who need permission to write, who are inhibited in their writing. Or people who lack motivation. I'm neither of those. (I lack motivation to follow through, sometimes, but not motivation to write.)

I think that it's great that it works for some people. Different strokes and all that.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


This week that just ended was the last week of the quarter, over in my paying job, and grades were due Friday. So rather than writing, I spent the week revising. I'm off this week for Spring Break, so I plan to make up the ground now. But revising was less time-consuming and let me focus on the work I needed to do. Also, I was writing at such a fever pitch for about a month there that I was letting Cor's critiques just pile up; I was reading them, but not actually doing anything with them. Now I'm caught up with that.

I picked up another thousand words or so. I am a tiny bit worried that it's going to be too big. Not too worried yet--maybe I'll find that the later parts come up less wordy. I'm inclined to move away from describing it as YA--which I never set out for it to be--and just describe the plot when people ask, and let them decide for themselves what it sounds like. For one thing, if I should end up at 125,000 words or so, that seems too long for a YA.

Cor and I spent this weekend at an event for readers and writers in Mount Dora. Met a few romance novelists, and just lurked around picking up whatever nuggets of advice I could. I had a couple of duh moments, when I realized I had forgotten something I had once known or overlooked something obvious. Most notably, in the area of chapter hooks. When I wrote my first completed back-of-the-drawer novel, Prototype, for all its horrible problems, I knew about hooks. Intuitively, even. I don't remember being told, but I ended most of the chapters with hooks. Suddenly last night, I looked back over my current ms and realized that I generally wasn't. What's worse, I had hook moments near the end of every chapter, and I was blowing right past them, resolving them, and then ending the chapter on an insert-bookmark-here note. I actually even committed the worst hook sin of all: I literally had one chapter end with the protagonist going to sleep! Holy crap! Thank God someone pointed my attention in the right direction before I got around to submitting stuff!

The duh moment was also hook related. Of course you should try to hook your reader in all your chapters, but of all the chapter hooks, the one you damn sure better not miss is the one at the end of chapter three--because that's the last one in your novel proposal! I'd never thought of that, but . . . duh!

Other notable moments . . . Linnea Sinclair now calls Cor and me her "stalkers." Um, that's . . . *gulp* . . . um, okay. And yet, my weirdest moment came not with her, but when I asked Elizabeth Sinclair (no relation) if I could crawl under her car! See, she drives a minivan, and just that morning I had run into a realism question, about whether or not my protagonist could fit under a minivan without it being raised on a jack. (The answer: yes.) Oh, and then I very nearly underpaid her for one of her books because I couldn't find the checkbook and we didn't have very much cash between us, and she graciously suggested we could send her the difference later. Luckily, though, Cor found the checkbook. I had actually picked it up and tossed it aside while looking for it. One of my processing issues . . . it's like I have some sort of aphasia-like thing, where I look at things or people, but utterly don't process what they are.

Lessee, what else . . . you know, I really think this is going to be the book/story that finds a home. That's a big part of why I'm blogging it, of course. I want a record of the process. I'm not given to giddy enthusiasm or overconfidence, so it means something when I say I think I'm on the right track now. I remember when I finished writing Prototype feeling that I had learned so much through the process, that the next novel would really be helped by it. Well, it took a few more years, but I think a lot of those lessons are finally yielding tangible results with this book. It's not that I'm blown away by the quality of my own words, but that I think I've brought the bottom up, so maybe I used to find a paragraph or a page that would blow me away, but the differential between that and the worst of my writing was extreme. Also, I'm starting to learn a lot about how to approach getting published like a business. I think a lot of writers just hole up in their garrets and churn out their art and then wait for the world to beat a path to their door, and it just doesn't happen. Certainly that used to describe me. Now, I'm learning a lot more (through Linnea Sinclair and through Cor's correspondence with her) about finding your niche, finding out what's selling and how to position yourself against it, and how to get out there and meet the people in the business so that you're not just another ms in the slush pile.

It also helps my confidence that Cor is really enthusiastic about my current project. She's pretty honest about what doesn't work for her, so her confidence in it helps a lot when mine wavers.

Now all I want is to finish writing the damn thing, because nobody is interested in partial manuscripts from unpublished people.

In other news, the damn air conditioner is on the fritz again. *sigh* And some dingbat on suggested I was a right-wing religious homophobe because I objected to his off-topic rants about how anybody who belongs to a religion that believes homosexuality is a sin is a barbarian not fit to be spoken to. Which I find pretty funny, because I've voted democrat more often than republican, I support Obama, I don't believe in any organized religion (as much as I wish I could, actually), I have a personalized autographed poster of the Indigo Girls on my classroom wall, and, when deciding whom to support way back at the beginning of the primary season, and making a spreadsheet of all the candidates' stances relative to my own, I listed LGBT issues, and specifically the freedom to enter into same-sex marriages, as my number two issue. But I didn't tell this guy any of this, even though he asked me my views, because my whole point was that this had nothing in the world to do with whether or not YA SF is too graphic these days. But damn, it's hard to walk away and let an asshole have the last word. It's a lesson I need to learn, though, because the thing about assholes is that they will always have the last word . . . because assholes never. shut. up.

Huh. That's pretty much the first cursing on this blog. I guess I needed to get that off of my chest. This is also my bloggiest post so far, I think. Luckily, though, In just a day it will be buried under the "March" tag, and not staring out at people from the front page. :)