Miscellaneous Blog Post Day

Keeping Things Updated

I was chatting with a cover artist today and after giving him my web site URL he asked me how my novel “Last Run” was coming along, since it showed I was 22% complete. Hmmm… old news. So I updated that page to reflect some of the kreative kaos underkway.

So the novel page got a rewrite. I’m meeting with a photographer Monday for an author head shot (may her camera not shatter). About a cover (for Last Run) I’ve already tipped my hand. That’s also going to need help from a marketer and editor, because I just don’t have the cycles for all of that myself. So, this web site, formatting and all, will likely change radically in the next couple of months, making it more focused on writing and easier to update and maintain.

Last Thoughts on the 2018 WLT A&E Conference

The 2018 Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference was very helpful. More this year than last but more because I’m more aware of all that I don’t know instead of last year’s version of feeling smart. So yeah, worth going if you’ve never gone. Helpful, but also showing me how much more organized I need to do, and how much have have yet to do while still looking for an appropriate Daye Jobbe (as the late author Jay Lake would put it). Trello’s good at organizing things, but the real problem—and not just for me—is load paralysis. Too much to do? Play solitaire! Y’all know that one? Yeah, me too.

…But I’ve got…my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder and Guilder to frame for it; I’m swamped

So, to summarize: I’m writing one novel while editing three others, marketing a fourth to agents and a firth for Indie publishing (well, one of the three under edit, but hey, numbers!). Oh, and I’ve still got four more ArmadilloCon manuscripts to go over before the end of the month. (All hail that fair venue!)

Writing Velocity

Today (Saturday) was a 4,000-word day, and that brings me to 4,2500 words written in my last ten calendar days (including this past Thursday with no writing done). Years ago I thought 1,500 wpd was a good chunk. The Shmuley Myers books were written on an average daily cadence of 2,500 words. Zepps is cruising along at 3.65k per day and I kick myself for goofing off for a couple of those days. A pair of 7ks and a few 5+s in the mix, there.

Sure, for anyone who’s done a NaNoWriMo novel challenge, there’s no quality like massive quantity. Fellow Austin writers might remember my little video clip from the early 2000s, humble-bragging. Daughter the Elder, lying face down on her bed, was typing blind to finish her 50,000-word “novel.” (Hint: her fingers were off for five thousand of those words. We’ve sent the results to the NSA for decryption and haven’t heard back yet.) 7/17/18 Update: DtE avers that she was really blind typing. She. Scares. Me.

At these speeds there are chunks I’ve had to simply tear out because they were crap, or took the plot off a cliff. For example, over 11,000 words from the second Shmuley Myers book, An Uncertain Allegiance, because I turned an explosion into a runaway, Skyscraper meets Armageddon meets Mothra kind of even. Fun to write, and I’ve got it tucked away, but horrible. Aside from blowing up the plot it created over a dozen characters two thirds the way into the book, and… well, let’s never speak of it again.

But they’re replaced with better ones. And it’s better to get the words out, then edit, and maybe remove, and then later maybe use somewhere else, than not to write them at all. Plotters might disagree, and say that if the plot’s sufficiently laid out in detail, then wild writing sprees aren’t necessary or good. But I submit that a plotter would get perhaps more and better WPD than even I. After all, we pantsers tend to make it up as we go along, more or less.

Thoughts, anyone?

When the plot goes out of control

Writing this article is a way for me to procrastinate yet another major revision to my current manuscript. But it’s a learning moment for me, that’s worth sharing.

Being able to write without editing is hard for most folks to do, and pushing through that barrier makes writing… not effortless, but at least doable. There’s more creative energy available to move the plot forward.

The downside to writing first and editing later (there are many upsides) is that one can veer off the intended path. sometimes it’s a character tugging at my hand saying “check this out; I can do this, too!” Or it’s a place with gravitas sufficient to move more action to it, or from it, or because of it.

My first tear-down in this manuscript was after creating a mass casualty event. A natural progression of the actions of some characters, actually. But this is a murder-mystery, not a Bruce Willis flick. And I ended up with the chaos that typically happens after a disaster of the “dozens dead, hundreds injured” variety. And while I got about eleven thousand possibly reusable words from it, ultimately I pulled it, and the six or seven new characters introduced at about the 60k mark, out of the manuscript.

I’m now past the 70k mark. this is where things should be coming together. The number of threads decreasing, the tension focusing on who did it, and what’s the protagonist going to do about it.

Now’s also the time I’m realizing I’ve got an extra suspect. He’s threaded throughout the story, Hinted at, a cause of trauma, of mystery… I’d already edited him out of the beginning, because even I couldn’t figure out what his motives were for his actions, cool as they looked when the protagonist came across them. To me he felt like Richard Kiel in Moonraker. Interesting, glitterly, but almost a one trick pony in terms of evil. I could have made him more evil, more important. But I kept butting into the fact that he wasn’t fitting in with a smooth narrative. Other detectives kept tripping over him. He added a complexity to the search for the murderers that I had to divert time and words to explaining.

So goodbye, Evan Stone. May you appear in another novel, in a different guise. And perhaps in a nicer role; I really didn’t like this version of you.

On Pantsing, Characters, and “Writer’s Block”

Isaac Asimov, at his “best” (we can critique his literary skills elsewhere) could sit down and pound out a novel as fast as he could type on his clunky electric typewriter[1]. With the kind of throughput he had, he had to be pantsing it, but I’ve found no references either way (but at 5k/day every day, I can’t imagine that he had time to plan).

I pants it (write without a clear outline), depending on my characters to pull me through the process because I know who they are, and what they want, and where they’re going. Doesn’t work for everyone, but at the last Armadillo Con writing workshop there was a panel of published authors. They went down the line: six authors and an increasingly bemused moderator. “Pantser,” “pantser,” “pantser…” You get the drift. Last was most surprising: an author with dozens of published murder mystery novels to his 90+ year credit. “I don’t know who did it,” he said. “Sometimes not until it’s all revealed.”

What he did know was his dramatis personae. See above, character, motivations, etc. Given that start it’s possible to “run with it.”

D&D dungeon masters (DMs) do something very similar (except, of course, for humans manipulating the player characters). And the DM has to handle any and all non-player characters (NPCs) that appear in the game. This is very close to the kind of pantsing I know. And there are some awesome dungeons with frantic DMs trying to keep one plot twist ahead of the characters.

For about a week I couldn’t get more than 1k words on a page. Some days under 100. And it brought me up short, because I knew the main characters pretty well. After coming through and then removing several scenes because they were flat and lifeless, I went back to my characters. Like solving an electrical problem in a car (before computers did most of the heavy lifting), I went and looked at every character and their interaction with others.

The “NPC” ones: the (first) victim, the mysterious stranger, the new characters on the block: they were all mysteries to mo. Why were they doing what they did? Why did they care about a better-defined character, or their actions?

So I took a step back (sans computer) and doodled on one of my writing notebooks for several hours. What were their names? Why were they in the story? What were they trying to get out of it? A few paragraphs of backstory, a clear physical and psychological description of each, and I was back in the driver’s seat, as it were.

At least, the seat by the keyboard that kept the words flowing.

Flipping the Page

I wanted Angels to be finished, or at least topped off, by January 1. I missed that deadline, but my real next deadline is getting back to my editor with changes to Infection, which is a whole other genre and animal. Then Last Run needs a thorough editing, and Induction, for re-release with Infection. I’ve got a couple of shorts that I want to write, and one titled Five Thousand Words that I’m rewriting after the Austin Public Library workshop. And shopping stories. And getting things together to find an agent.

I’m also going to try and emulate Marshall Ryan Maresca‘s amazing blog posting schedule. Once I have a good sense of the kind of content I want to put out.

Wow. Okay. I guess there’s plenty of work to do… Happy 2018! I hope.

From the bottom of the writing/critiquing well…

I’m watching other writers and their blog posts. Some are regular as clockwork—it’s part of their marketing campaign, their name branding, and they’ve got more time (and definitely more discipline) to keep on that track. I’ll need to do it as well—just not yet, please.

Speaking of discipline, I’ve talked with a whole bunch of writers, but more importantly people who say they “can’t write” because they don’t have the time, or can’t concentrate… Or “the usual” to writers who talk to folks on the other side.

I can easily push through 4,500 words in a day, in one sitting, when I’ve got a clear vision for what the coming scenes will bring. (And as a pantser those are visions constantly changing as the characters and situations bend the reality I’d “decreed” for the novel.)

I’ve got little sticktoitiveness when I’m not sure where the scene or characters are going. That’s when I do things like dishes, laundry, shopping—and writing posts on my blog.

That little screen grab is how I keep myself at least heading in the right direction. When I’m writing I’ve got non-spoken music (or, at least, not music with English lyrics) playing. If I’m blasting through, it’s a thirty-minute timer, with the option to just hit the reset and do another. But if I’m flagging a bit, I hit the five or ten minute timer to check the news, facebook, or a little game.

When thirty minutes seems an eternity and my characters seem embedded in tree resin, well on their way to amber, I use the ten-minute timer. Hammering hard is easy when I know there’s a break in a reasonably small number of minutes.

I also use the ten minute timer for when I need to do some online research and want to make sure I don’t get sucked down the rabbit hole of “just another link.”

That’s how I’m at 72,295 words on Angels, my current novel, and how I wrote over 173,000 words on Last Run in six months of steady, non-stressed, work. And why my blogging has been sporadic. And I’m sticking to that story.

Stale Writing and Technology

The novel I mostly wrote back in 1985 can’t be finished now. Technological advances and political events have overtaken major story points so unless I want it to be an alternate universe fiction, it’s dead.

And that’s a good thing, I think. Writing the ten-year novel should be about the things that are unchanging: the nature of people, of personal growth. Wanna write science fiction? Write it and get it out there: dawdle and the po’on (POH-ohn, a Hebrew word literally meaning “‘here’ device”) is leapfrogged by the smartphone. And the Israeli-Palestinian stupidity has surpassed even the blackest of my noir fantasies. At least I got Syria and Jordan right.

I’ve been re-reading a slew of science fiction novels (latest: the Barrayan Saga books), and, as Lois McMaster Bujold has stated that most of the novels were written to stand alone, it’s been eye-opening to see how she avoids infodump in pursuit of establishing character and milieu when readers attempt to peruse them in order. Learn from all that’s been written, not just the latest.

On Priorities and Possibilities

Reading about authors with hundreds of short stories, a dozen novels. Knowing Jay Lake and his writing urge despite dire circumstances. I burn my creative candle on both ends: day work and client work, both in development. Writing, even poetry, gets such short shrift it might as well not be part of my gig.

Writing used to be a habit. Habits are actions we fall back upon during stressful or busy times. My mind fulminates with ideas for poems, stories, development ideas (software) and patents. I can’t possibly do any of them with my current load.

Now that I’m ~stably employed, it’s time for me to rethink to where my ship heads: land of opportunity or creativity. I’ve neglected the latter, but it’s part of why I left management, and it’s what turns my crank. I have a history of depriving myself in the name of self-sabotage. (Kinky, I know.) This is looking like a case of that. Time to change it.

Returning From a Posting Hiatus

I’ve been working a job, now a job search, and working on some cool software code that’ll debut on this site.

That’s come at the expense of writing. I’ve done precious little work on Infection (although I made some critical progress on some story arc issues to lock in the longer view). I don’t think I’ve written so few poems in this time frame.

Multi-tasking apparently gets harder as life stress levels rise. Time to take care of priorities: slow down to speed up.

Fractal Lists of Things to Do

I’m drowning under the increasing lists of things to do. To-do items are fractal: each produces subordinate or successor objects, each demanding its time slot, its focus, its ramp-up and ramp-down resources and time.

Apparently it’s good for the writing soul, since I’ve started writing poetry after more than an eight-month hiatus. (Okay, there’s no causal link, but I’m trying to make lemonade here.)

More later — too many people hovering overhead.

Shlomi Down

Took some time off Friday to have strangers plumb my innards. Bottom line: I’ve got nice innards. (I could have told ’em that.) I also decided to heed my body: even after an only 15 minute procedure early Friday morning, my body is still clamoring for attention. Slept more since then than I did the entire week before. Okay, maybe I needed more sleep, but 13 hours at a stretch? What a luxury! What a slothful rack of time!

I’m in the metaphorical saddle again, juggling the usual too many things to do, aiming to do a few. Only a few: otherwise I thrash around getting none done.

Today: a few little web site things…