Publishing & Reality… and Magic

My series, under a nom-de-plum, is finally back in process, after a bout of reality-induced depression and anxiety courtesy of religious fundamentalists in all branches of government. Oh, and nazis. They’re feeling empowered more and more. “This can only end in tears” — ancient parental saying. This was compounded by my having a discussion with a publicist who refused to work with me on the series because the owner is pro-life. (And apparently Jewish practices are anti-life, but I’ll let that one lie.)

So I’m close on the release date of the next book in that series, but having said it would be in “the fall of 2022,” that’s not a small bullseye target.

To restart my engine I returned to a novel I’d completed in first draft, shown to a couple of folks, and knew I needed to make many changes. It’s a YA fantasy novel, with a large world-building component (points a finger at Marshall Maresca’s thoughts and work on that topic).Getting magic right is tricky. Don’t know if I nailed it, but I’ll be reaching out to a few readers in the next couple of weeks.


Manuscripts vs. Entropy

Lightning StrikeI’m prepping a manuscript (Last Run) for shopping, after a HUGE number of great changes suggested by the White Gold Wielders writers group here in Austin. Having one’s novel read and commented on in group format is a blessing I would hope for all my novels.

I fired up Scrivener, started making changes, moved from my laptop to my desktop, and Uncle Murphy struck. The result: A few dozen “recovered” files, blank scenes where once text resided. What’s been updated? What’s had changes? Between a Word copy used for the group discussion, a text comparison tool, and a lot of careful scrutiny of the recovered files, I was able to bring the manuscript back to wholeness, with only one scene flagged as “deleted right before the crash–” and therefore not an issue.

Save. Save again. Save yet more. One of the first things a writer learns is “keep a backup.” I have Dropbox, exports to Word, saved zip files of scrivener folder structures for major edits. And still, Murphy manages to get a word in edgewise. Or at least cost me three hours of quality time repairing, because things went splat at exactly the wrong time.

Can’t have 4k EVERY day!

Yesterday was a word count bust: under 500 words. But! I spent a good three hours doing some (don’t tell folks) plotting to complete Zepps, my sci-fi novel in progress. After that an excellent workshop with the White Gold Wielders. Ain’t nothing like feedback and encouragement from folks who Know What They’re Doing.

Today’s another olio day: reviewed the excellent Deana Roy‘s presentation on Indie publishing. Meeting Jack Conner for lunch to translocate his very successful publishing strategies to my brain. Then I can get down to the business of getting to the thriller at 40,000 feet that is Zepps.

On a separate business-of-writing note, I’ve noticed that my hours per day of writing and editing have skyrocketed over the past month. I’m averaging 7-9 hours per day, seven days out of eight. Just like writing’s a muscle—the more often you write, the more you can write in a day—editing works the same way. I can knock out 20-30 pages of line editing (mowing through the 765-page monster:my post-apoc novel Last Run). And 5k of another two or three stories for other writers.

Austin’s a great place for writers, and I’m lucky to count several as friends. There’s something really cool to see a published author in their new-book-release glow. Wanna. Just… wanna. ArmadilloCon is less than two weeks away!

Amid, Among, Between, Betwixt

H/t to Ashwin Mudigonda for non-commercial use

Just signed up for the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference here in Austin. Last minute. Second year going. Wasn’t going to, but after working on a single query letter for the better part of the day, I might as well see if I can’t catch an agent’s eye. Researching each participating agent and editor took a few hours, but that’ll come in handy as I stalk the Wild Agent at the conference. I’m also gonna do a toss-at-the-buzzer pitch of my larger novel, Last Run, to one or two victims agents that might have an appetite for it. Of course, that means cleaning that puppy up too, before June’s end.

This interrupted writing madly a piece to submit for the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop. I think this is my last year that I’ll submit. I’ve gotten quite a lot out of it but the panel sessions were where I got the most bang for my conference buck. And hopefully I can assist next year.

All this while getting the first “Angels” book cleaned up enough to send to agents. Meeting tonight with one of my writing groups for dinner and last revisions before last cleanup. And find a title. It’d be great if I had something to call it aside from a word unrelated to the story.

Book two in the series is done, at least in first draft. And #3 is already starting to come into focus in my head, so I’m getting character journeys and the larger arc or three sketched out.

And all the above is while my fascination with a paying, full-time day job increases. Doing an application right can take an hour or two for each one.

Life. Gotta love it.

On Relevance and Faithfulness (Or, Tomato, Potato)

As I (continue to) procrastinate writing the climax, denouement, and conclusion to my second novel, I’m getting great feedback from specific beta readers. One in particular read Angels just for the Jewish POV and info. Having been raised Orthodox, and gone to yeshiva, I’m no stranger to my religion, but one might be surprised as what can get forgotten over the years. And it’s important that I get this right because I’m realizing that Angels is almost perfectly written to be read by a frum (religious Jewish) audience. There are recurring tropes in how the religious are portrayed (including this movie, the latest involving Orthodox women “trapped” by their religion).

So when she pointed out that she didn’t think the word sheitel [wig] meant what I thought it meant, I was puzzled.

“No,” she said, looking at her iPad notes, “you meant to say tichel [head kerchief], right?”

I engaged in a spontaneous facepalm. And wrote the first of several notes that’ll become part of the next draft of the book.

I might “know the rules,” but not having lived the life, conflating the two into one word, instead of using the two correct words isn’t surprising. And, to a non-Jewish reader, this would fly right over their (presumably uncovered) head. But getting it right, really right, means as much as possible. Like the carpenter who sands and finishes inside corners of pieces even though no one with ever see it. I’ll know it’s the right word, and a religious woman or man reading it will understand and be less likely to snort, think “that idiot doesn’t really know how we live,” and consign it to the misguided Jewish lit pile.

One of my favorite authors wrote a book including scenes in a Temple (which is what non-religious synagogues are sometimes called in America). The names of the rabbis? John, Paul, and Mary. {crickets} Sure, it’s a fantasy novel, and so what if magic was the theme of the scene, but still: why get something basic wrong if you can help it?

Being faithful to the culture respects it, its members or adherents, and, ultimately, respects the reader as well. Because a writer wants to suspend disbelief only as much and for as long as necessary to make the scene work.

To get more info on the wig/kerchief issue, check out Rivki Silver’s blog post on sheitels, and this whimsical but accurate post regarding tichels by Andrea Grinberg in her store’s, The Wrapunzel, blog.

ArmadilloCon Flotsam & Jetsam

Just little bit from last week’s conference. Also submission grinder, which has some useful search tools (but definitely slanted towards SF/FF/Horror and not “straight” fiction.

I came away with a hunger to write that I haven’t felt to this degree in years–and I’ve been ramping up my writing for a few years now.

More than that, I realized, in attending the panels and the critiques, that I have a few stories, partially completed, that deserve to get finished. They’ve got good characters, stories, and lives I’d love to share with readers.

Just as soon as I get a few more submissions in…

ArmadilloCon ’39 Critiques

There are five writers per group at the ArmadilloCon writer’s workshop. Four manuscripts to critique. Along with life, job, and one’s own writing. Most folks do the 5k max, but I’ve got one (shown) that clocks in at around 3k.

There are some folks that can do a critique and still get their 2k/day words in. I… am not one of them.

In SlugTribe it’s a 5k word limit, but only about 20-30 minutes to read it. In reading feedback from them it’s clear that the edits go away towards the end (see previous post). But for the workshop, it’s every page. Well, almost every page. I say almost because between pointing out the passive voice a dozen times previously, and a typed analysis as well, sometimes the need to torture deceased equines is obviated by the need to get another story done!

The image at the top of this post is an example of a short story mid-critique. In addition to my (possibly unreadable) edits, in the background you can see a written critique that gets above the fray.

I hope I get as good as I’m giving, but, for me at least, the critiquing is at least as educational as a good first draft.

Critiquing and Paper Cuts

I’m lucky to live in a city where there are overlapping supporting circles of writers in every possible genre. I’m involved in a few writing groups, including an invite-only one, the venerable and awesome Slug Tribe (that just got a great write-up in the Austin Chronicle), as well as occasionally hitting a Meet-Up group every now and again. Plus the Writers’ League of Texas is based here, with its annual Editors and Agents conference and the cozier, and perhaps more “incestuous” ArmadilloCon (and I mean that in the least creepiest way!). And the Austin NaNoWriMo group, a once and future way to spend November.

Three of the above perform critiques on pieces. The most paper-prolific by far—and I say this with two bandaged fingers—is Slug Tribe. Probably best to bring at least fifteen copies of a piece. With a 5,000 upper limit, that’s approximately twenty sides of writing (more if there’s a lot of dialog). On average sixty percent of Sluggers write comments on the pieces, which I dutifully reel back and bring to my editing operating theater. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 300-400 pages single-sided. Which I try never to do, what with the lack of available earthworms at my place.

So here’s the evening’s tidbit: collate them by page, putting them in reverse page order (so you’re working from the back of the piece forwards). Take the “global” written comments (thank you, thank you all for the thought put into them!) and put them at the back of the pack. Why?

  1. People tend to comment less towards the end of the piece. On-the-spot editing is tiring, and once a reader has made their point, why flog the expired equine?
  2. Going backwards makes it harder to skip something because the mind forms the logical construct of the paragraph, and not the backwards verbs of the placement.
  3. Those pesky page numbers mean very little when going through the tenth set of edits. What was on page one, with an easily spotted paragraph shape is no longer there. That means wasting brain and time trying to find something that there. Going backwards en masse means never having to figure out where you were before you carved up two paragraphs and inserted four clauses.
  4. It’s hard to know who commented on a page, until you get the the end (first pages). This means addressing each suggested edit on its own merit, and not on the merit of the author making the comment. Just because they’re a great writer doesn’t mean their edits have a greater weight than a sharp-eyed newcomer.

Enjoy a slightly less painful time editing your next critiqued work!

Generative Activities

Short post here.

I write, but I also bake and cook. Bringing food to people is, for me, very similar to giving the literary nourishment of poetry of fiction. After a drought of creativity in the kitchen I’ve been (financially) kickstarted into the kitchen. Here’s something that’s slipping out of culinary favor this time of year: cholent.

It’s a simple recipe, that folks tweak for every different village and family. Orthodox Jewish law doesn’t allow for cooking on Shabbat (the sabbath), and it’s hard to keep, for example, a nice steak on hold for eighteen hours until it’s Saturday lunchtime.

Enter cholent. Take ingredients, toss ’em into a pot, cook it until it’s mostly done before Shabbat begins (a little before sundown on Friday), then go to the baker and stuff it into the bread oven. Overnight. And most of the morning. When it’s pulled out, it’s a heavenly, creamy, yummy thing. Below is the one my mom made, which pegs it to Sosnowiec in pre-WWII Poland.


  • 3-4 oxtail bones
  • 1-2 lbs. Flanken. Well, my mother would say ‘flanken,’ but I think we’re talking about a skirt steak kind of beef. Given my mom knew 9 languages and my dad 10, I think fuzzy would be a good way to describe her recipe ingredients. At any rate, a fatty piece, in one piece.
  • 5-6 kartofel. That one’s easy: use huge Idaho baking potatoes with thick skins. My mom skinned some, but kept others unskinned. In either case, cut in half.
  • 2-3 medium onions, whole and peeled.
  • Garlic. At least a 1/2 bulb. Peeled but whole.

That’s it. Put it in a crock pot until there’s no more room. Put the lid on, then leave it be on low heat for about eighteen hours. When you open it up, the potatoes are brown and buttery, the beef fat and oxtail marrow is everywhere, and basically it’s salted and then a feeding frenzy ensues until it’s all gone.

Some folks put whole eggs, in shell, into the mix. Or (shudder) red or garbanzo beans. Or bulgar. Or other travesties upon the pure Holiness of the recipe above. They shall be purged when the Truth is Known. 🙂

Okay. I feel better now…

On to writing.

On Focus (Again, and Again, and Again!)

Six months ago for some reason I had a clearer “plate” for writing. But third rewrites, frantically writing down scraps of ideas for new stories, and working on what is turning out to be a monumental task for a simple thing (Google Charts embedded in WordPress, with data updates), plus the flotsam and jetsam of life’s issues, had made for a plate of raw squid tentacles (calamari, for those trying to keep with the metaphor) entangled with angel hair pasta, glued together in a sauce of lost time and chores.

And on my ride to work my train buddies ask “how’s the writing going.” It’s about discipline, I want to say. “And if you find mine, please give it back to me.”

So today I finish the rewrite of Generation to Generation so I can give it to one LAST reader before getting a {sigh} cover together.