Dogs, Tricks, New. Damnit!

I’m a recalcitrant writer when it comes to technology, which is funny considering I’ve been neck-deep in emerging technologies for, um, four decades?

It took me over ten years to slide from Word to Scrivener. I still think it’s got a clunky UI, complex more than necessary. But when writing 90k-150k novels spanning many chapters, it made sense. “Compiling” the manuscript to Word or other formats is an excruciating pain in the ass. But here I am.

Grammarly has been around for years, and I’ve scoffed at using such a crutch. But, lured by claims linking it to AI technology (a whole other post, but let’s not go there now), I signed up for the free version.

I’ve paid the $120/year subscription after spending 2 hours taking a story I deemed finished and being marketed through its wringer. I. Am. Humbled. Not bad: 50 or so corrections for 6,300 words. I didn’t accept about a fifth of the suggestions; they were inappropriate for the dialog or tone I was looking for. However, when I looked at the corrections I made in one of my writing groups and read their feedback on my scenes, it was clear that, had I run them through this tool, I’d have far more effective critiquing.

So I’ve got a new trick, one that’ll help my writing sit up and beg.

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.


Publicity for the Indie Author

The second book in my murder/mystery series is done except for incorporating my editor’s edits, and getting a cover finalized.I didn’t do any advertising; I wanted to see how the process worked until publishing. The answer was well and also that, without marketing, there’s just a stealth book out there.

So I’m on the search for someone or a firm to get the new book’s name and author recognition going. Talked with a possible publicist from the Jewish community, and have a contact in the Israeli publishing scene to see if I can get a Hebrew-language version of the books out there.

On more this-author’s-site-related side, I’m going back to the novel I’d like my agent to push. She needs a few things like a synopsis, summary, tag line(s), back cover blurb, and other all-related-but-different collateral. Also, another last reader to make sure nothing’s slipped past me.

I’ve got a few short stories in play, including one that’s already available for purchase: Shloshim. Yes, click that link, buy that story (I mean, it’s only $0.99!). That one might appear in Israel as a reprint, but we’ll see.

That’s all for now. I’m sure any publicist I hire will insist on my getting into a regular publishing schedule, both for this and my nom de plum’s sites. Stay tuned!

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.

Trunk Novels & Research

By my count I blew five weeks and generated ~100k words on a novel I’m regretfully consigning to the metaphorical trunk. And what’s funny is that I’m sure that if this novel was written forty years ago, it’d be on its way to my agent.

The difference is research and realism. With a little research and math, for example, reveals the sheer impossibility of using a physical “curtain” to secure, deflect, or deorbit satellites. The power budget’s too large, the volume of space, as crowded as it is in LEO, is immense, and the time to manufacture a solution from the time of crisis needed to be measured in many years, if not decades.

Space vehicles aren’t created the way or at the velocity of airplanes that went from idea to combat in World War II. It’s not enough to weld some reaction tanks on a skeleton and call it good enough. I mean, sure, if one’s looking to build non-repeatable and occasionally lethal craft. And while it was easy for me to create and model a graphene/kevlar sheet that could be put into debris’ way in space, the size of the sheets, the speed of cleaning… did I mention that space is big?

One NASA engineer calculated that just LEO orbit was ~1,292,613,096,000 cubic kilometers[1]. Lasers zapping debris? Powdered regolith shot out in sprays to interdict anything in its way and slow it down to deorbit? Dozens of teams of “miners” pulling sats out of range for recycling? Heck, how about putting a small asteroid in orbit to clear a path[2]? These solutions all might have worked in the fanstastical, stories in the Analog of the 1960s through 1980s. But now? I think a writer should be fair with the reader: if it’s science fiction, it has to be based on the most we know of science. And manufacturing, and human nature.

So Brightly Needing is consigned to that black hole into which every novel whose momentum slows below the Schwartzschild radius goes.

Okay, fine. I’ve got short stories to submit, a few to edit and still others to write. Rocking on.

Quick Post-Prandial on Manuscript Maintenance

I did some time-and-motion monitoring in terms of getting changes to a manuscript fit from Scrivener to Word and cleaned and ready for The Agent to use.

Fine-cleaning two scenes (~2.5k words). That means reading them aloud, copying the pieces to a word file, then reading that to ensure it’s clean: 75 minutes.

Compiling from Scrivener to Word and cleaning up the resulting mess, adding a TOC, etc.: 75 minutes.

2.5 hours for each revision change, assuming a total copy of manuscript from Scrivener to final.

Lesson learned: Get the frickin’ manuscript done and fully cleaned ONCE before moving it into Word. Agh. Double agh.

An Author Moment

Just finished hand edits of Last Run, a monster novel (originally 185k or closing on 800 pages). I’ll have a much lower word count when I’m done, if for no other reason than most post-apoc manuscripts are best salable when they’re under 120k. Or so I’m told. This month, at least.

I find the act of writing on paper validating, as I immediately see what I’m changing. In Word, or Scrivener, old words disappear, and are seamlessly replaced. (Yes, edit tracking in Word. Also yes, it makes it really hard to read.) It also gave me some more practice at writing in cursive. Because we all know that’s the next New Thing.

What I didn’t expect was the emotional impact reading the book. I hadn’t picked it up in a year, so while I knew what was happening, I was rediscovering the phraseology and tension. (Especially after pruning all those extraneous words…) So I had the tear-jerker moments, the tension-filled suspenseful ones. The chuckle at the narrator’s subtle wit. It was fun, damn it! I enjoyed it. And after re-reading it, I’m sure an audience will as well.

Unlike my Shmuley Myers books, this one’s going to go to a professional editor for cleanup, then straight to alpha (beta? gamma?) readers.

Hope my agent doesn’t mind hawking two manuscripts at once…


I’m juggling too many books that aren’t finished. “Last Run” needs a 40% diet, and I’ve been plowing away at edits. “Zepps” has a hit list of dozens of changes (see my previous post: Knotted!) I’m wandering around, like a Shakespearean actor in a Dr. Seuss play, shouting “what’s my motivation” in the various voice of my characters.

Oh, and I’m sending, via agent mine, the first salvo of agent queries to editors. So I’m writing up tip sheets in additional to customized queries, to make life faster for her.

That’s not to say I’m done with the final flourishes on the novel I’m pitching (“A Day at the Zoo.”) Aside from my awesome writers group, Chris Brown (author of Kansastan and ArmadilloCon #40 had a few suggestions.

A Progress Tool

Recently I posted a graphic showing words per day. (I’ve used it before: you can see posts here and here.) It’s part of my musings about writing velocity and general “feeling like an author.” I’ll tee up a few posts on that in the future, but for now I wanted to provide a Google Sheet, called Writing Progress, open for anyone can copy, then modify on their own account as they see fit. Once you’ve got it you can try exporting it to Excel (see pix at end of post.) The Microsoft version needed tweaking, especially on the timeline sheet, with might not be worth fixing vs. recreating, provided you have basic pivot table skills.

The goal for the sheet is twofold. First, to share something folks have asked about, because that’s what some authors do.

Second, it does for free, and with little grief, that thing that I paid Aeon Timeline $ome $illy $um of $50 to have and then to puzzle over. It integrates with Scrivener, which I (very reluctantly, see here, here, and here) use, but has been too much trouble to set up and keep linked. And if you don’t use Scrivener, I don’t see much reason in buying Aeon.

So head out to the Writing Progress sheet and see it for yourself. (No login required to check it out, but I’m guessing you need Google Drive to copy it.)

Screen Shots of Writing Progress Sheets

Novel Progress page

Timeline Entry Page

Screen shot of Excel Export

Progress page as an excel export

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?