Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's not OK, okay?

"Every writer has a crutch s/he relies on too much, whether that is a particular word, phrase, or punctuation mark--sort of the literary equivalent of comfort food." - Debra Ginsberg, in her editorial report

OK, fine.  She's right; I've seen it before.  I've even exhibited said crutches, myself.  Heck, I was up till 2:00 am last night fixing the ugliest of the pimples she found in Cataclysm: the word OK. 

Now, OK can be spelled absolutely correctly as two letters, or it can become a four-letter word.  I say that with a bit of my tongue in my cheek, because last night it certainly did morph into a four-letter word in a couple of ways.  I'll discuss the spelling first and then talk about the whole crutch thing, OK?

Urgh.  How do you spell one of the most common words in the English language, especially when sometimes it's not even a word?  The Wikipedia site on the issue holds well over a dozen ways to spell the juxtaposition of two separate sounds: Oh and Kay.  There's OK, okay, O.K., and several others.  Geez, it shouldn't be this hard.  O.K. is, in my opinion, right out; it treats the word as an acronym when it's really not.  Yes, I'm dismissing what I consider a shaky etymological reference to 'Oll Korrect,' which is suggested as a clever misspelling that was popular in 1838 in Boston.  Allen Walker Read found written evidence that a group of people in that area of the nation in that time frame gained enjoyment from misspelling phrases and making the misspellings into--um, misacronyms.  Yeah, I'm not buying it.  This has become one of the most common words in our language, and its use has spread to several other languages, and I'm to believe that it came from a localized fad for misspellings?  Nah.

That leaves OK and okay as the two common choices.  My editor, Debra Ginsberg, says okay is the spelling that her books have been edited to use, and thus it's the preferred one for publishers.  Another editor I found on the web, Thomas McAllister, very strongly states that OK is his preferred method, and he can't understand why anybody would use the other way (  Near as I can tell, his credentials and Debra's are nearly identical.  Debra's my editor and he's not, though, so I'm going with her ruling on the matter.  Purdue's OWL, meanwhile, seems to back her up, and I've always used that site as the definitive reference to all things linguistic.  I can't find reference to the specific spelling question on their site, but a site search does find a great many instances of the word there, and every single time it's spelled okay. 

Grammatically, then, I was clear on what I had to do.  Technically, it ain't that easy.  Word's Replace feature is wonderful for direct replacements, especially those where capitalization matters.  For example, it's easy to tell it to replace all instances of "ok" with "okay," but that grabs everything and makes us end up with words like smokaye instead of smoke.  The characters had all spokayen about it, and it's bad.  Oof.  Thus, I used the Match Case option on the "OK" search, fired the global Replace up, and blew it.  Yes, it worked for only finding specifically the use of the word OK, but it changed every instance to okay.  The advantage of using the letters OK is that they're always capitalized--but not so with the word okay.  okay, then, that was a problem.

I ended up having to go manually through each instance of the word, checking for whether it should be capitalized or not.  There were well over a hundred instances.  Which, by the way, leads to the next problem: the crutch.

Okay, in real life's conversation, how many sentences do you start with okay?  Is your response to everything a big, exciting, "Okay"?  Nah, not mine, either.  Yet I had written entire passages where every character had the over-okay affliction going on.  Urgh. 

Why didn't I catch this myself?  I have no idea.  I guess there's some truth to the suggestion that sometimes it requires someone else to point out the dirt on our own face.  Thankfully, in any event, I have an editor who pointed it out, and I fixed it for the most part.  I did leave some okays in, of course.  Sometimes it was the right thing to say, okay?  I did, however, manage to whittle the number of appearances down to just over fifty, and that felt--well, okay. 

Off to work.  Have a great day! 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Thank you, Debra Ginsberg

It's here.

At 2:48, I got tired of wandering around impatiently and went down to check the mailbox, just on the off chance that the mailman had, in fact, left the manuscript in the rental office like he wasn't supposed to.  He hadn't.  Instead, he had found a way to wedge an envelope containing a 250-page manuscript and a 14-page report into my 4"x4" mail slot.  Evil bastard.  I feel like Chevy Chase's character in Funny Farm.

Whatever.  It's here, in my hot little hands.  Flipping through it, I'm a bit relieved to agree with Debra's assessment that the technical quality of the writing was pretty high.  There are a great many pages with no red marks at all, and many of the red-touched pages are tinted because of errors I make throughout (ellipses,  capitalizing nouns that aren't proper, etc.).  The good thing about common errors is that Microsnot Word is really very good at a few things, one of which is repeating corrections multiple times.  The rest--well, making text corrections is actually a fairly relaxing process to me.  It's the large additions I need to make that will be work, but even that won't be too bad.  It's a lot of writing, but the reason I'm giving birth to a novel in the first place is that I like to write, no? 

All in all, I'm quite pleased.  I gushed about how wonderful Debra Ginsberg has been to work with in my previous post, and I'm not one to repeat repetition repetitively.  Still, it is nice to work with a real professional who understands customer service as well as her profession.  That's all I'm going to say, because--I gotta get to work now. 


Im patiently waiting

Nope, I didn't forget the apostrophe.

I just added one too many spaces.

An Express Mail package is supposed to be arriving sometime before 3:00 pm today.  I have one of those snits of a mailman, though, who might knock, or might not, or he might just deposit the parcel at the apartment office and leave quietly.  He's never done it before, but I can see this guy just chucking the parcel up onto my balcony.  I came home yesterday and he'd left another parcel outside the door; inside was the four-box set of George R.R. Martin's The Song of Ice and Fire books, and since I've been very much looking forward to reading them I'll try to be a bit more kindly to him.  For now.

Today's package, though, contains my edited manuscript, freshly bled over and ready to guide me in making my book into a story.  The editor already sent me the report, but it's mostly an overarching analysis of the work.  While it has page numbers and some great suggestions throughout, it's not the detailed "remove this comma, dummy" type of information that the scarlet-shaded manuscript will have.

Yes, I'm impatient.

Speaking of the editor--if you've been reading along, you've noticed that I have yet to identify her by name.  That's on purpose.  I felt really good about the relationship going into it, but I've had that blow up in my face before.  My management style has always been a case of "praise publicly, coach privately."  If the editing relationship went as well as I thought it might, I would have no problem later on announcing who I'd worked with, but if it didn't, I wanted the ability to be anonymously honest.  That is, after all, why I'm writing this blog: to create a sort of honest on-line and very public journal of the First Novel process.  Many of those who've worked for me before know that I have very little problem saying either "You sucked" or "We sucked," depending on which is more appropriate, and that kind of comment doesn't need to be attached to a person's name on a blog.  Unless, of course, that person is the author of a series I particularly despise about vampires and werewolves, but that's a different post....

At this point my concerns are pretty much history, though.  The amazing lady I've been working with is Debra Ginsberg.  Her site is, and there's enough well-laid-out information there to have made me comfortable with both her credentials as a published author and the services she offers as an editor.  She also came highly recommended by a friend, which means a lot to me.  Her price isn't cheap, but it's reasonable, and I like that she quotes by the project rather than by the word or by the page, which a lot of editors out there do.  The whole "$.02 per word" kind of thing worries me going in, frankly.  An editor's job is to suggest adding and removing words, for one thing--will the addition/removal affect the price?  For another, Microsnot Word doesn't actually count words; instead, it uses an algorithm based on number of characters.  Regardless, Debra does none of that.  She gives you two options: a line edit for X dollars, or an editorial report for Y dollars, or both for Z dollars, which happens to be less than X + Y.  I guess that's three options, but I was close enough for either government work or fiction.

Editing isn't all that I've gotten out of the deal, though.  She's also served as a coach.  I can imagine that there are editors out there who would say, "Just send me the manuscript and the money, shut the heck up till I'm done, and I'll send you back the manuscript."  Perhaps not in those words, but that's the attitude.  Not hers.  She's been in contact with me regularly, sending me short notes about how it was progressing and her early thoughts. 

Her editorial report has been spot on.  In overarching commentary, she's recognized my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and she lays them out in clear and honest prose.  Remember way back when, I blogged that I use too many ellipses?  Caught. She's also zoomed in on some of the character development problems that my friends had brought up and I'd tried to fix (but apparently didn't).  The good news this time is that she's given some solid and direct advice on how to fix them.  She didn't just say, for example, that the beginning scene was a bit too jarring; instead, she said that I should consider opening with more description of Matt and the meeting participants and expand the prose a bit--and she told me how to go about it.  Crystal is still coming across as a flat and somewhat-confusing ditz, and she suggested that I add descriptive text in the scene where Crystal is led to the room to reveal more back story, and instead of telling the reader that Crystal was consoling some of the folks who'd survived the cataclysm, that I show her doing so.

Yeah, I know those are blinding flashes of the obvious now.  Trust me, though, when I tell you I didn't think of them earlier.

She also finished an entire week early, and went to the added (and contractually unnecessary) expense of sending the parcel back to me via Express Mail so that I'd have this weekend to work on it.  Excellent example of what customer service should look like, that is.  

So, to wind up the story, the editing experience has been entirely positive and well worth the money.  Now, if only the dang mailman would show up.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Where do I start?

Back to writing about writing.  I've digressed more than enough about death and stuff.  I began the blog to chronicle the process of going from an idea to a published novel, and what happens in my personal non-writing life is relevant but not directly tied to the subject at hand. 

The subject at hand is quite frustrating today, though.  I've been waiting on the results from the editor, and now I have them.  Well, I have part of them, to be precise.  The editor I chose to work with creates two sets of results, as I knew going into the deal.  First, there's a line edited manuscript, complete with glorious red scrawls across each page.  I say glorious because I've spent many hours as an instructor making those scrawls, and so I have built into my psyche the idea that the scrawls are the ultimate marks for learning, the blazes on the trail toward truth.  As I make those marks on the paper for my own students I smile, content in the knowledge that those who really yearn to improve will find their corrections revealing, the red marks forming directional signals on the path toward intellectual greatness.  Sort of.

I'll reconsider that stance, certainly.  In fact, I may never use red again.  That's without me even receiving that part of the results back yet, slow as the postal services are. 

The part I've received is the overall edit report, a copy of which the editor e-mailed me.  It's fourteen pages long.  Fourteen pages, single-spaced, I must add.  It's eight thousand words.  For the sake of comparison, that's one tenth the length of my entire novel, at least for now.  The sheer thickness of the document, once I had it printed out and weighing my hands down, made me want to sob, releasing my tears into the Pool of Notgoodenough.

Ten hours, one very large beer, and a frank conversation with my wife, who has represented a significant part of the creative force behind the effort, later, I'm not sobbing.  In fact, I'm on quite the opposite side of the emotional gridiron.  It's actually good news.  The editor approves of my plot, for one thing, and is pleased with the overall premise.  She says, "what is really working well in the novel right now are what I think of as the big things--the essential plot, conflict, structure, and the genre-specific world you've created.  All of these elements are straightforward, solid, and executed well."  The stuff I really worked at, then, I did well at.  Hey, for a first attempt at a novel, I think that's pretty dang good. 

What I lack, apparently, is some finesse--and some length.  "A novel should be just long enough to tell the story," the general consensus seems to say.  According to the report, the novel doesn't tell the story.  The good news is that it's still relatively short, as fantasy novels go.  Thus, I can afford to add some pretty significant word count in the needed addition to the storytelling. 

The thing about storytelling is that it's hard to do.  I originally told the story in about 68,000 words, as I recall.  Honestly, I don't need to recall; the blog post from March 20 titled "Finis" lists the ending word count as 67,895 words.  Since then I've fleshed out areas of the story I didn't even realize needed fleshing out.  I've gotten some great advice from friends, too, who were terribly confused on some significant points on the story.  I fixed the confusion points, and the editor was still confused by some of them.  The discussion with my wife was key to understanding that, since many of the points the editor brought up were things she had asked, too.  I had answered her questions, of course, but not in the story I was writing. 

The storyteller knew the answers, but the story readers had no way of knowing.

So, as the editor warned me as her review was ongoing, I have a lot of work ahead of me.  I have to surgically add to the story the bits and pieces that will help readers connect with it.  The report from the editor is, so far, worth its weight in gold, because of the recommendations it gives me.  Those recommendations, though, are just conceptual comments.  It's my job, as the author, to weave new prose in seamlessly with the existing prose to form a cohesive story.  It's an exciting challenge, but--where do I start?

To accentuate the question, I'll add that the report has a lot of overarching commentary.  It also has a piece that lists specific pages and the problems associated with the prose found there.  Coming soon is the page by page redlining.  I opened the document, on version 4, and saved it to version 5, and started looking at where to start.  Unfortunately, I'm still not really certain.  There's no neon sign flashing a "hey dummy, add this text here" on top of the page.  Honestly, I'm glad there's not.  At some point being an author has to be challenging, has to have a fair amount of effort-ful creativity associated with it. 

Till I'm ready for that, then, I ask that you have a safe and wonderful evening.  As will I, but the document revision will come after.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Knuckle-bump with Death

It's been a sobering past few days.  I haven't written anything, not even a blog post, but I've been in the wrong place to be penning much of anything decent. 

I found out Sunday that one of my good friends and colleagues was killed on Friday.  Bill Tillery will always be a guy I look up to as a mentor; he taught me everything I know about Novell networking.  He was one of those kind of instructors who made students want to learn, and who made the fellow instructors around him want to be more like him.  This great man was piloting his motorcycle, with his wife on the back, down what I consider the most beautiful route on the planet (the Kenai peninsula in Alaska), and according to the official story, a kid driving a Jeep crossed over the line and hit them head-on. This isn't an in memoriam piece, though; I've written what I have to say about the event in other places. 

Death is nothing all that new; in my 43 years I've had several friends, colleagues, and family members pass on.  It's not, of course, something I'm destined for, I always thought.  I'm Iron Man.  Literally...before I turned 20, I had run the Kaaterskill Spring Rush in Iron Man mode, as well as the Huntington Beach Triathlon and the Marine Corps Marathon.  Man of Steel that I used to be, I once ran a five mile race on Veteran's Day in Long Island, NY...nine days after a left inguinal hernia repair.  And it was expected of me, after all.  I'm a Black Knight of the Hudson.  It took a spectacular car crash to take out George Patton, one of the most famous members of the Long Grey Line, and I figured it would take a car crash or perhaps a howitzer shell to take me out.

Call it arrogance if you want; I won't argue.

The only medication I deigned to take on a quasi-regular basis was the pair of aspirins I occasionally downed after a long night of partying when I needed to be nice the next morning.  In fact, I managed to go through my youth, my 20's, and most of my 30's without a long-term prescription of any sort.  Medication, I figured, was for the weak or the malfunctioning, and I was neither.  When my doctor put me on blood pressure and thyroid pills in my late 30's, I took them when I felt like it and remembered to take them, and when I didn't, I didn't.

Last week, then, when I ran out of pills, I called them in to the pharmacy a few days early just like I was supposed to.  Went in to pick them up, but the blood pressure meds weren't there.  The doctor, my pharmacy explained, hadn't responded to their request.  No big deal.  I went a couple of days without, and then on Monday called the doctor.  His office said the pharmacy had never asked.  I called the pharmacy back and asked them to re-fax the request.  They did, and my prescription was made ready. Only problem was that I worked on Monday evening till after 9:00 pm, well after the pharmacy closed.  Again, I figured it was no big deal; I could just slip away on time on Tuesday and pick them up.  Iron Man would be fine.

With all the medical education I've received, you'd think that I would have connected the metaphorical dots when I woke up Tuesday with dry heaves. was probably something I'd eaten the night before, I figured.  I texted my boss--no need to call in sick thanks to text messaging--and let her know I'd be half an hour late, and then showered, dressed, and headed on in to work after the requisite two cups of coffee.

At work I had a headache.  I asked our nursing program administrative assistant for some sort of pain reliever; she had Excedrine migraine.  I took it, but then joked to her half an hour or so later that the headache was actually worse.  She looked at my face and asked about my blood pressure. Talk about a blinding flash of the obvious.  "Oh yeah...blood pressure," I said.  I know what happens when your blood pressure rises to the point that you have dry heaves and severe headache.  I know what the term "malignant hypertension" means.  It's a medical emergency.  It can, and untreated likely will, lead to stroke or worse.  I needed to get to the hospital, which is why I went ahead and ran the Very Important daily meeting I have, and then drove myself home, stopping by the pharmacy on the way.

By now, if you're calling me arrogant, I'm probably agreeing with you.  Just don't tell anybody, OK?

I'm lucky, really.  I got home safe and sound, took my medicine, and laid down for several hours.  Today, I'm fine.  It could have been a bit different ending, though.  Iron Man isn't made of iron any more, I guess.

There's a feeling of temporal uncertainty when a close friend passes away.  I felt it last year when Charlie Mullis passed in his sleep, at an age not much older than I.  I felt it this weekend when Bill Tillery left us, too.  But there's nothing quite like a brush with death, yourself, especially when the knuckle-bump should be considered entirely preventable.  

Ah, well. The guy who stared at me from the mirror this morning was no longer Iron Man, nor was he clad in Athena's helmet wielding a magical sword and a shield bearing the stars and bars.  Nah, he was just a guy who has, at this point, lived for over half of his statistical life expectancy.  And...who needs to finish his dang book.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lacking the write stuff

Ugh.  I'm seriously lacking the write stuff today. 

Woke up hurting from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, and that includes some of the few remaining neurons I didn't kill off with drink back in the Army.  It was, you see, a dark and stormy night....

Ouch, that cliche raised my pain level.  To be honest, it WAS a dark night, and it threatened to be stormy as well, but that had nothing to do with the strenuousness of the weekend.  Our friend's daughter had flown down for a couple of weeks to experience life outside of Alaska, and this was her last weekend being here.  Her flight home was scheduled for 2:30 yesterday afternoon.  It was a perfect arrangement: in order to save a few hundred dollars, her parents had flown her in to Washington, D.C., instead of the itty bitty airport here in Richmond.  It's only a couple (ish) hours of driving away.  Additionally, the timing worked out that my dear friend Hillary's graduation--she's now Doctor Hillary--was yesterday evening, in Alexandria, Virginia, which is a suburb of D.C., the same suburb, in fact, as the airport our friend's daughter was scheduled to fly out of earlier that same day.  

We rose from our slumbers already behind the eight-ball, to abuse another horrid cliche.  The day before had been one of the hottest of the summer so far, and the humidity had raised the heat level even more, and what did we do?  Went to an amusement park, of course.  Well, we had promised our visitor that we would go, and we are all tough, determined redheaded people, so we're not going to let a little heat stand in our way.  Turns out we should have.  It was so hot we didn't enjoy it much at all, and I got to experience heat exhaustion for the first time.  I mean true heat exhaustion, too, complete with dizziness, waves of sweat, weakness, and nausea.  That, and whininess, a symptom I'm not known for exhibiting ever.  But we all lived, and we made it home in time to slink into showers to get rid of the sweat and then collapse into our beds. 

Thus began our morning...all tired and a touch grouchy.  We piled into the van and drove a couple of hours.  We were almost, in fact, to D.C., when the call came on Heide's cell phone.  It was from the airline.

Yeah, you see what's coming, don't you?

There was a delay in flights, and due to this and that consideration and that other one they couldn't get our friend's daughter out till the next day.  "Oh, that means you'll have to either make another couple (ish) hour drive, or rent a hotel room for the night?  That's too bad, ma'am."  Gotta love "customer service" at airlines these days.  Wasn't even English-speaking customer service, sadly; with all the stress going on in the van, I almost exploded right there in the driver's seat while listening to Heide trying to spell her name to the rep.  "D.  No, D.  D-E.  H-E-I-D-E.  No, that's a D.  As in Heide.  D, as in Dave.  No, my name isn't Dave."  I still wonder if the rep overheard my comment from the other side of the van: "D, as in Dumbass." 

The next thing Heide did was call her friend in Alaska, who had the advantage of not sitting in a moving vehicle with only a hand-held connection to the outside world at her disposal and could probably manage to bark at the right people in the right way.  Meanwhile, I started replanning the trip in my head.  We could all go to graduation and to dinner with Doc Hillary, and then rent a hotel, drop the kiddo off at the airport the next day, and be home mid-day.  It would work. 

Shortly after, Heide's friend called her back.  Gotta love Delta really do.  The other choice is...well, not good.  They told her that someone named Melanie Kenning had called and changed the flight arrangements; it wasn't their doing.  That raised all sorts of security questions with us, of course, but at the time I was more interested in getting the good young lady safely back to her home.  Our friend, anyway, had managed to bark and scream enough that they had managed to find her daughter a seat on a flight leaving later that day. 

Right smack, of course, in the middle of graduation ceremony.  *sigh*

It all worked out, anyway.  I dropped Heide and the girl off at the airport with plenty of time to catch her flight, which she did without further incident.  I attended a perfectly boring graduation ceremony, learning even more things not to do at the ones I run.  My friend Doc Hillary was the undisputed star of the show, delivering the best address hands-down (yes, they had EVERY graduate deliver an address).  I got another opportunity to be snarky on Facebook, thanks to my friend Droid.  And we all had a great dinner that night, unexpectedly paid for by someone else. 

So...all said, it was a great day.  It just left me with no write for today.  Till tomorrow, then....

Friday, July 22, 2011

The calm before the storm

OK, so I've finally started feeling alright about taking my editor's suggestion.  I did an eensy touch of revision last night to RoG: Ascension, to the part where she's learning the smith's trade, but most of the evening hours were spent playing around on social media.  In just a few minutes I'm going to work, but I'm cutting off after half a day to take the family to Kings Dominion, our local amusement park.  Tonight, then, will probably be more relaxation and enjoyment.

Tomorrow is a special day.  First, we're dropping our friend who's been with us for a couple of weeks off at the airport so she can return home.  After that, I get to attend a graduation ceremony.  Yeah, I've been to umpty-dozen of them in my day job, and I've led most of those, but this one's special.  A dear friend with whom I've worked for many years is walking across stage in her funky pointed hat and gaining the title "doctor."  It's been a long time coming, certainly.  Can't wait to shake her hand, smile, and say, "It's about friggin' time, Doctor Hillary."  Of course, all this stuff going on means I won't do much writing or revising this weekend,  but like I said, I'm OK with that.

Received another update from my editor yesterday.  This lady is really turning out to be wonderful to work with.  She's confirmed a lot of what I already knew, that I need to do more character and relationship development, but also that the story is solid.  She's going to give me suggestions on how to do it most effectively, which is music to my ears.  It's one thing to know that there's a problem with work you've done, but that knowledge doesn't always carry with it a clue on how best to fix it.  It's a relief to know someone else is on my side, though, with the clue that I'm missing.  Can't wait to see what she suggests for the ending scene, one that I confess seemed a little weak even after I revised it umpity times.

That said...I have a fair amount of work ahead of me, clearly.  As soon as I get the manuscript back, which she said might be as much as a week earlier than the date she originally forecast, (that works out to late next week, or early the following) I'll have a ton of revision work ahead of me.  The cool thing is that I'll have a road map in front of me, guiding the work.

Short version, then...I see the end of the metaphorical tunnel.  It's all metaphorically uphill from here, but that's OK.  I have some time, now, to rest a bit...the metaphorical calm before the (again) metaphorical storm.  Once we get started, it'll be an interesting ride--one that, as always, I'll bring you along on.  Hopefully, I must add, without so many damn metaphors.  :-)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Pitch

As always, I'm thinking a couple of jumps ahead.  At least, I'm going that far ahead with all the bad and scary things that could happen.  Actual useful planning?  Not so much.  I guess I just like to terrify myself in a very proactive manner. 

I read in another author's blog (Beth Carter - that it's now "pitch season."  Heck, I didn't even know there were seasons to authoring before now, so I guess I've learned something useful already today.  It's not even noon yet, so woo hoo!  Pitch season, in any event, is apparently the time of year when conferences are held and writers gather, apparently to talk about writing.  (is it just me, or wouldn't writing about writing be more effective?)  Also, though, they spend a day or so at these conferences gathering a panel of agents and publishers who apparently look like humorless America's Got Talent judges, in front of all of the authors (who, incidentally, paid to be there), who then have an opportunity to one at a time, in the hot illumination of a single spotlight, give as effective of a "pitch" for their novels as the authors can manage under the stress.  Oh, and under the time limit too.  The time limit I've heard most frequently is one minute.  Can you imagine giving an effective pitch for eighty to a hundred thousand words in sixty seconds?  Me neither. 

Regardless, I'm not there yet.  My only work to pitch is currently on on editor's desk, soon-ish to be returned to me slashed throughout in bloody red ink.  It'll probably take a while after to piece the work--and, less importantly, my pride--back together, and so I really have no idea when I'll be ready to go participate in one of these grand celebrations of author-hood.  It doesn't bother me terribly; there are still plenty of ways to get rejected outside this "pitch season," after all.  I'll be sure to blog about them as I go, in the hopes that it's an entertaining process to someone.  Millions of people tune in to America's Got Talent to watch Piers and his triad of judges rip the hearts out of the folks on stage.  Isn't this really the same thing? 

"Pitching," though, to me, sounds not as bad as it's portrayed by some.  For one thing, I speak in front of people for a living.  Many of the worries that others, including Beth, have listed are business as usual for me.  My biggest fear, normally, is having a Greek audience.  By that, I refer to an audience that just doesn't connect at all.  Normally when I talk to a group, I'm able within the first few moments to bring them into the conversation, as evidenced by smiles, engaged eyes, and tilts of heads.  Sometimes, though, it's like I'm speaking Greek.  Even my best jokes or my most lively comments sometimes just dissipate into a void of WeDon'tCare.  That's my biggest fear. 

Truthfully?  That's not actually my biggest fear.  Don't tell anybody, but my biggest fear is really getting to the end of my talk to find my fly open.  It's happened.  Twice, in fact.  There's nothing quite like the OhMyGod feeling when you go to the restroom after a great performance, reach to unzip, and find that task already accomplished.  It makes you want to not leave the restroom.  Ever. 

That fear actually has resulted in my own little ritual, one for which I've cleverly come up with an acronym: CMF.  Check My Fly.  Before any performance, and certainly before I pitch my work anytime in the future to a gaggle of growling agents and publishers, I Check My Fly.  As long as it's up, all will be well.  It's my greatest fear, after all, and as long as the thing I fear the most doesn't happen, what else would worry me? 

And now it's time to head off to the day job...have a great one! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Growing reading list

What do John Crowley, Nora Roberts, David Baldacci, Janet Evanovich, Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, and James Patterson have in common?  If you said they're all authors, you win the "Ding Ding of Obviousness" award.  Yes, they're all authors.  Most (but not all) of them are NYT Best-selling authors.  And all are now residents of my bookshelf.

When I discussed my own reading list a while back, one of the underlying rules of its construction I mentioned is that I'm a damn cheapskate.  I don't mind shelling out $20-$25 for a book so long as I know I'm going to love it, but with every drop in certainty suffered by the condition, my "willing to shell out" price drops by a related amount.  Thus, I've happily bought every Wheel of Time book at full retail price (minus, of course, bookstore discounts as applicable) as well as the latter two Eragon novels, but the first Eragon took a bit of convincing.  Who is this Christopher Paolini? I asked at the time. 

Back to the list at hand, I have to admit that though I've certainly heard all of the names before, I've never actually read any of their works.  Not being familiar with their works, then, I'm not certain I'll love them.  I know it's convoluted logic, but hey, that same $20 will buy me a nice bottle of Chimay that I KNOW I'll love, and there'll be enough change left over to pay for lunch at Mickey D's.  See?  Cheap, I am.

I know, though, that I need to expand my circle of reading if I'm going to improve as an author.  Each of the folks I mentioned before is known as a pretty good author in his or her own right, and of course none of them writes exactly the same as the others.  Makes sense, then, that as an aspiring writer I should take at least part of my instruction by reading several examples of success in the craft.  I get that.  But I'm still a cheapskate, and the bestsellers aren't the cheapest books even on eBay.

Enter Doubleday Book Club.  I was skeptical.  Back in college, way back in the nineteen *mumbledy*-somethings, I joined Columbia House.  I then bought the minimum, would you believe cassette tapes?...and then quit, and then joined again.  Rinse, repeat.  It's a great way to build up a library at prices that will make even the cheapest cheapskate proud, but you have to read the descriptions closely.  For example, I bought a tape by the Kinks, one of my favorite bands back then.  Unfortunately, only the lyrics were in English; it was a live recording where everything else was in Spanish.  The tape of Sha Na Na hits I scored, at roughly the same time, was truly just a tape of Sha Na Na hits...sung by Billy Bob and the Neverbeenheardofsincers.  Buyer beware, and all that stuff.

Forward to today and ah, what the hell.  First of all, these days the "tell us no or we'll send you two items every month that you didn't order, never heard of, and probably don't want" can be done online, thus avoiding the waste of a perfectly good postage stamp.  Also, they promise that if you don't like what you get, you can send it back.  So I ordered from them. It took a couple of weeks, but a shiny (shiny in the new way, not shiny in the shiny way; it's corrugated cardboard, after all) box showed up yesterday.  Now, I've heard that one way the book clubs make money is by abridging the works, thus saving on printing costs.  In other words, they pay somebody to snip out parts of the prose, possibly removing minor characters and plot lines.  Sounds like a lot of work to me, and I don't see how it would save that much money, but I'm not all that savvy on publishing finances.  I checked, though, against the listings on, and all six of the books bear the marks and ISBNs of the original publishers, in addition to matching the original page count pretty closely.  OK, then; original works they are, so maybe I'll keep 'em.

As I look at the pile, though, I can't help but wonder how the authors make any money.  I mean, I got all six books for about ten bucks, and that included shipping.  The number I've been given is that the average hardback sale nets the author just under $2 in royalties, after paying the agent.  There's no way that happened.  Author Sabrina Jeffries, though, cleared it up a little on her page:

To these earnings you can add other sales: foreign rights sales (advances range as widely for these as for the U.S. rights—they can be in the hundreds or they can be in the thousands), audio sales, in-house book club sales (generally accounted at 2.5 percent royalty for Harlequin/Silhouette), and out-of-house book club sales (Book-of-the-Month club, Doubleday, Rhapsody, etc., which offer advances plus royalties). This will probably add a couple of thousand to your earnings, unless you’re doing well, in which case it could add as much as several thousands to it. Of course, some people don’t get other earnings at all.

Apparently, then, those deals are separate from normal publishing deals.  I wonder how large they are, or how large they can be, especially for top-list authors like the ones I've mentioned.  They're surely not gonna be $2 a copy, in any case. 

In any event, it looks like I have many hours of happy reading ahead of me!  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Time for Revisioning

Yes, I know the correct word is "revising," but if a mere political figure can make messes like "refudiation," surely there's room for a linguist-in-training to have a little fun?  Besides, it's hardly the first time; remember "describiness"?  I figure that if I keep this up one of these days I'll get a call from a descendant of Noah Webster, either to congratulate me for an award I'm receiving for the cutting-edge and brilliant modernifications I'm making to the language, or to curse me out quite thoroughly.  It'll probably be the latter, but either way I'll be talking to a relative of a great man.

"I...urge you to try to enjoy the time you have away from the manuscript," she said, she in this case being my wonderful editor.  She's said a lot of really wise things to me so far, and this one is eligible for the same description, but I ain't doin' it.  I tried this weekend.  I didn't touch any of the three manuscripts I'm working on all the way from Friday through Sunday.  Instead, I spent some time with friends, and I also--I'm proud of this one--learned to Twit.  At least, that's what I'd call it.  Everybody else calls it tweeting, but the service is called Twitter, dammit.  If it were Tweeter, it would be tweeting, but it's Twitter.  Twitter, twitting, to twit.  Makes sense to me, anyway. 

*sigh* Who makes up these language rules? 

Anyway, in my efforts I learned a lot.  I found a couple dozen agents' blogs and sites, and "followed" most of the blogs I came across, which is a fancy techie way of saying that I asked for notification when new blog posts were published.  Hopefully many of you have followed or will follow my blog.  Since then I've learned that agents as a group don't blog frequently, but that's not one of the lessons I'm talking about.  There are a lot of agents out there, and every single one of them has a different service and a different process for approaching them.  The (very small) part of me who thinks tin foil hats are useful wonders if there's a touch of collusion out there, keeping us would-be authors from mass-contacting agents.  After reading some of their blogs, though, I think that any collusive cabal of literary agents would have long ago given up in disgust.  Many authors are wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful people, but apparently many are...well, not.  Ah, well.  I did, at least, take in a lot of examples of what to do, as well as quite a few examples of what not to do.  Hopefully some day you'll read a post here where I say that I followed an example of what to do, and signed an agent as a result.

Also found a post that listed the going "max length" for various genres of newbie novels.  If I accept the post as credible, which I'm tempted to do, my two works of 76K and 88K are right smack in the correct length range. That's good to know, especially since I was in such a quandary over whether I should smack the two novels together into one 165K word beast that, as the agent put it, would be "too damn long."  Beautiful phrasing, that. 

While I was at it, twittering away, I figured out what those hash marks (#) are for.  I was even able to join a discussion group Sunday night, #askagent.  It was wonderful, with @literaticat and @RedSofaLiterary (see, I told you I was learning how to do this stuff) responding to both good questions and stupid questions.

Yeah, I know that we educators have been telling people for decades that "there's no such thing as a dumb question."  But there is an Easter Bunny, right?  Anyway, the little white lie we tell in class sounds better than "we'd rather have you ask dumb questions than just sit there, mutely resembling a bunch of tree stumps."  The math review class I taught last night, in fact, was one of those.  I told every math joke I know--yes, both of them!--and then proceeded to quietly pray that one of them might answer a question, or ask one, or crack a smile, or anything else that might prove she still had a pulse.  "Now, come on, class.  Remember, there's no such thing as a dumb question! *cheesy teachergrin*"

That was one of the reasons I got home in a bad mood.  There were others.  They're pretty much irrelevant to the topic of this blog, but they were there, and so by the time I sat at my computer I was in very much the same mood that Crystal is in the first scene in Book 2.  If I had the power, in fact, I'd've melted a pretty flower, too.  But I had a good beer to drink, and I had a CD filled with Mozart's compositions, and I had a scene on the computer that needed revisioning, so I ended up eventually relaxing into a happier state.

It gets in the blood.  The writing, that is, but that's not all.  I love the process of spinning a tale through prose on the page, and I also love the process of going back after and making the prose tighter, more flowing, and clearer.  At the same time, though, I've really come to like Crystal and Matt and the rest of the folks in the book.  I understand, now, what JK Rowling was talking about when she spoke of missing Harry and the crew.  You spend a few months, or in her case (7 books!) years, in the heads of all these wonderful characters you've breathed into existence out of the firing of your own neurons, and it's difficult to be away from them for long.

So...all that said, I hope my editor can forgive my inability to follow her urging.  Or maybe not.  I am enjoying the time away from the first manuscript, after diving into the second.  Time for more revisioning, indeed!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

To edit or not to edit? reprised...the Blog Question

A few weeks back on the blog I asked if I should pay for professional editing services for my manuscript or just do my best and send it away.  I chose the former, and it's shaping up to have been a good decision.  She's sent me a note of encouragement--the details in it boil down to "you don't suck"--containing the good news that she might be done ahead of schedule.  Yay!  While that means I probably ought to get busy revising Book 2 so it can be out of the way before I get back into the meat of Book 1, it's also sure sign of definite and positive progress.

OK, so editing a book is important.  What about blog posts?  I've been viewing the book and the blog as two separate entities, two very different exercises.  The book is a deliberate act of writing a story, and it's intended to impress enough readers to actually add a bit to my income, so it stands to reason that it needs to convey the story as correctly as possible.  Most people can probably read over a single misplaced comma, for example, and never realize it, but the fact is that commas and other punctuation marks do mean something to the reader, as I discussed in my "Road Signs" post.  Thus, the number of errors should definitely be minimized in a commercial work of fiction.

Commercial work of fiction this blog ain't, though.  I started it as a personal journal made public, a way to look back once the novel is published and really understand what I've been through.  I made it public because I think there are a lot of people who, like me, have never actually written and subsequently published the book they've always been planning to write and who are a bit scared by the prospect.  Thing is, though, that I'm a bit of a crass, grumpy old man, a trait that this stream-of-conscience style of writing tends to highlight. 

I make mistakes, too.  A couple of days ago I was, by way of indulging in a bit of nostalgia, reading over the first few blog posts I'd made, and the second one I just plain couldn't read.  It was bad.  Part of the badness is a testament to how much my writing skills have improved over the months; at least, I don't think my current blog posts are that error-riddled.  The other part, though, is just a testament to bad writing skills.  In any event, when I recognize bad writing I have to ask myself if I should edit it or leave it as evidence of...well, something. 

Should have or shouldn't have, the crass, grumpy old man that I am edited it and then saved it without much internal argument.  Bite me if it was wrong.  I did, however, start feeling a little bit of a quandary later.  Should I have changed the story?

As always, I turn to the experts, or at least those who seem to be experts by virtue of their voice on the Internet.  Jennifer Kyrnin, of, wrote a column asking the question here:  One of her commenters answered with a great quote: "Surely content is king, but by the same standard, editing must be the queen; There's (sic) nothing I cannot stand more than typos and errors that are obviously just pure laziness on the part of the poster...."  When I say great I really mean that it carries a perfectly valid yet grammatically-incorrect point.  It makes my snarky insides bubble right over in happiness.  

In my research on the topic I found other examples of people, in blogs and in comments on blogs, complaining about grammar and spelling errors while making grammar and spelling errors themselves.  I'd go on, but it would just be beating a dead hearse.  We all make mistakes.  When I find them in my own blog, I'm going to correct them.  If I ever decide to turn this blog into a commercial activity--and don't think I haven't considered writing a book on the experience--I'll make sure that what goes into the book is correct, too.  On the flip side, though, I don't plan on going back through over a hundred posts to edit for the sake of editing.  I've enjoyed the experience, flitting carelessly through the ebb and flow of blog prose, writing ideas in a somewhat sorta grammatically correct kind of way, and I hope that people enjoy reading the posts.  If I make errors along the way, please feel free, gentle reader, to point them out so I can correct them (assuming, that is, that I didn't intend to make them in the first place). 

Do you have different thoughts?  Is line editing important for blog posts, or are you OK wading through a mangled sentence or two to get to content?  I'd love to hear from you on the matter. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Books and movies

It's funny how books that I absolutely love can translate a couple of different ways into films.  I'll never forget lining up to go in and see the movie Eragon, which for me was a long-awaited visualization of a book the entire family had enjoyed.  Paolini did a great job writing it; it's got larger-than-life characters on both sides, and great dialog, and a meandering storyline that is enjoyable to get lost in.

J.K. Rowling, in turn, did a great job writing the Harry Potter series.  It, also, has larger-than-life characters on both sides, and great dialog, and a meandering storyline that is enjoyable to get lost in.  I watched HP 7 Part 2 last night, late at night when my old-aged body should instead have been sleeping, and I walked out thrilled.  It was an incredible experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  Looking over the reviews everywhere, I can tell that I'm not alone.  On Yahoo! movies, in fact, it actually got an overall critics score--the critics!--of A-.  I don't think I've seen that high a critics' score ever.  The users' score was also good.  On, the movie also has the highest score I've seen, at 97% out of 100.  People are definitely digging this movie.

Eragon was the direct opposite.  I walked out of that movie actually feeling angry.  It's one thing to make a bad movie, but it's even worse, to my opinion, to make one out of a good book.  My family was pretty unanimous in their hatred for it, and when I got home and started looking I found that much of the rest of the moviegoing public agreed with us.  That movie got smacked with a 16% rating on, and it was harshly panned by critics and users alike.

So what was the difference?  Looking at the review text, it's not really clear.  On, the Eragon bashing begins with the phrase, "Written by a teenager (and it shows)...."  Now, hold on there.  The book, not the movie script, was written by a teenager.  The book was on the New York Times Bestseller list.  The book won a couple of literary awards.  "Written by a teenager" thus doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

The critics continue with, "Eragon presents nothing new to the 'hero's journey' story archetype."  USA Today's reviewer called it, "naggingly derivative."  In other words, it's a repeat of other similar stories.  Here's the thing, though: there's nothing all that new and different from the "hero's journey story archetype" about a boy going off to a school for gifted children (Xavier had one too, remember?), gathering his followers, and defeating a big bad meanie.  Neither book series won awards for being astoundingly new and different and non-archetypal.  Instead, they won their awards for the way they took the story lines and brought us in as readers with the character development and the relationships that formed between those characters.  In Eragon, it was the bond between the titular character and Saphira that stood central to the story line, while in HP it was the triad of young wizards whose relationship grew and morphed over the span of seven novels.  

That, I think, is what the difference boils down to.  In Eragon the movie, we were given a beautifully embellished visual  treat that had a boy, a dragon, and a bad guy.  And, um, that was unfortunately it.  In HP the movie, we were given a beautifully embellished visual treat where indeed, the boy beat the bad guy, and we all cheered him on, but we also had the benefit of seven prior movies worth of watching the relationships morph and change, and the characters and their relationships weren't lost in the pyrotechnics of HP 7 Part 2.  

As always, your comments on the matter are hoped for.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My Reading List


That word best describes my feelings these days when I think of what's happening on the other side of the country right now.  Somebody with some actual credentials is reading my book.  Well, that's not all; she's also marking on it with a red pen.  As a teacher, I've always enjoyed using a red pen due to the sense of purpose it gave me.  Silly, yes, and somewhat narcissistic, but it's the way I felt.  Having someone else use a red pen on my own work has always been, in turn, a rewarding receipt of needed feedback.  But that's easy to say for an 8 or 10-page essay.  I'm invested in this work to the tune of six months and nearly 80,000 words, and so I panic when I think of it.  I successfully wrote my comprehensive exams for the Ph.D. program I'm in, granted, but there was a detailed rubric, or a graphic explanation of how I'd be judged, with that.  There's no rubric for fantasy fiction.  Just when I think I know what the public is looking for, I find an example that proves me clueless.  

Just today, for example, I bought a book on eBay which then got me into a quagmire of other recommendations for books on plot, character development, dialog, etc.  It's amazing to me how many books have been written about how to write books.  Just totally amazing.

Speaking of buying books, I was asked yesterday to talk about how I determine what books to buy.  I admit, first, that it's kinda random sometimes.  For example, I went into a Books-A-Million a few months ago looking for a good fantasy book to read, and walked out with Sh*t my Dad Says.  I actually was in the process of walking out without that book, but it caught my eye on the bottom shelf of a center display.  You know how the bookstores stick tables right smack in the middle of the aisle, right?  It was one of those, but it was down about knee level, and so I barely saw it.  I had watched the show, though, in part because I still have a man crush going for William Shatner, so much so that I cheer at every Priceline commercial.  Can't help it; I'm in that generation of nerds.  I loved the show, anyway, and so it only stood to reason that I'd love the book the show was based off of.  So I bought it, and I'm glad I did.  It's a funny book.

Used to be I was much more careful, in large part because I was a broke cheapskate.  As a young adult I only had the budget, with what the regular dosage of beer was costing, to buy a book every so often, and so it had to be a good one.  Growing up I don't remember reading much of anything fun, what with all the Very Important Books I had to notread for my high school classes.  I recall very much enjoying notreading Billy Budd, for example.  Pride and Prejudice, too; I didn't read that book several times through high school and college, which led to a great rediscovery of a story I'd never known played artfully by Keira Knightley and, um, some other people.  I was also given the opportunity in my 11th grade lit class to notread The Great Gatsby, which I kind of regret doing now because I occasionally catch myself wondering what was so great about him.  Later, in college, I didn't read most of Shakespeare and all of The Prince and Dante's Inferno

Thus it happened, then, that I reached my early 20's having only read, for the most part, the pages of the various textbooks that contained the homework questions and a book titled The Search for Schroedinger's Cat.  That, and my Bugle Notes, but "read" isn't the right verb to apply to my intensive memorization of the pages from that little bundle of joy and radiance. 

OK, a cadet does not lie, cheat, and all the rest, and so I admit that that last is untrue.  I had also read, in my earlier years, all of the Happy Hollisters and the Hardy Boys books I could get my hands on.  Later, at West Point, I read lots of books about the Vietnam War and about World War II while I was in those classes.  At least, I read all the ones available that weren't assigned reading for the classes.  Final admission, for today, is that I remember actually pulling out and reading a textbook from military science class once on an airplane.  It was the text on the Russian military arsenal, and I was seated next to a hippie-type person that I didn't feel like talking to.  I think I actually showed her some of the pictures, too, evil bastard that I was at the time.

Thus, I entered my 20's having read precious little, as I kinda said earlier.  A good friend of mine, a guy I and my fellow West Pointers referred to as "The Woz," introduced me to fantasy, though, and I never looked back.  At first it was books from the Dragonlance series that he loaned me, but then he also let me borrow the first few books describing the life of Drizzt Do'Urden.  Like I said earlier, though, I was a very careful buyer, and so I spent most of my time in bookstores looking for works I hadn't read by authors I had read.  I also got to know science fiction through the Foundation Trilogy.  It wasn't long after that I also discovered the Eye of the World series, all four books of it at the time. 

All non-academic reading pretty much stopped when I got into my MBA and Ph.D. programs, though, because I learned the lesson pretty quickly that I had to actually read those books to survive.  That, then, brings me to today. 

It occurred to me as I got started writing my novel that I hadn't read much in my life.  I'd read a little Tom Clancy, and I'd read Jurassic Park, but the rest of my fiction reading as an adult was all in one of two genres.  I started getting inexpensive audio books from bestselling authors in the hope that reading bestselling authors would rub their selling skills off on me, whether I was reading their bestselling books or not.  The hope wasn't well founded, it turned out.  In fact, several of those books I hated.  I sat and looked at the reviews of the books I'd bought, and that brought understanding.  I also realized why I'd been able to buy them so inexpensively, for that matter.  All of their reviews contained words like, "Though not their best work...." or "The fans accustomed to (the main character) won't hate this...."  Turns out buying the cheapest options wasn't the best idea I'd had, and it also turns out that even the best authors can put out some real garbage. 

Since then I've been a bit more selective.  Before I buy a book by an author I'm not familiar with, and even one by an author I am familiar with, I'll look at the reviews on Amazon.  I ignore the number of stars, though.  The text of the review tells me all I really need to know, because by now I know what interests me as a reader, and what I need to read as a still-learning author.  I look for fast-paced adventurous books, specifically, no matter what genre they're published in, and those books nearly always have something about the pace written in their reviews.  I'm also looking for great character development, in part because it's what I enjoy, and in part because it's what I'm looking to become better at as a writer, myself.  Again, those books nearly always have something about the characters written into their reviews in a positive manner. 

Do you read book reviews before buying?  If so, where? 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Does blogging matter?

When I started this six months and 100 posts ago (yay for 100 posts!), all I really intended to do was keep tack of the trials, tribulations, and learning moments I encountered as I progressed through the process of writing a, wait, two, wait, a single big, wait, two novels once again.  It's been an interesting path, but "straightforward" isn't an adjective I'd use to describe it. what?  I've blogged consistently for six months, in and of itself an achievement for me.  I've written 100 posts, and at a rough average size of 1000 words each that means I've actually composed a novel's worth of blog posts.  In fact, it's been tickling my mind that if I manage to get Return of the Gods: Cataclysm and RotG: Ascension published, I should also try to work the blog posts surrounding them--my de facto journal--into a publishable text.  Meanwhile, speaking of "if," there's still plenty to blog about in the saga of those two books.  The writing part of writing a novel is much better understood, I think, than the getting it published part, after all.  I suspect that there are people out there who're interested in reading about what I go through getting a publishing deal.  We'll see.

Right now it's a matter of waiting.  I sent the manuscript off to be edited and waited the ginormously long time for the U.S. Postal Service to find the state of California in order to deliver the envelope.  They did, and they did, yesterday.  I've been promised periodic updates with a completely edited work by August 9th.  Yay!  It's exciting as it can be, this knowing I have to wait several days to hear anything, and then wait several more days to hear more.  Part of me wants to scream, "But I want it now!  Monday, at the latest!  That gives you ALL WEEKEND for crissakes!"  Luckily that's not a part I let others see very often.  It is, however, definitely there...this underlying impatience, writhing after months of every day, every day, every day writing coupled with revision, revision, revision.  Months of frequent and fervent activity, followed by...waiting.  I'm pretty sure I need to get used to it going forward, even more so than I already am, but it's hard sometimes.

So now I get back to the thought with which I kicked off this post.  Now what?  Clearly, I'm going to continue blogging about my experiences with the editing and, hopefully, the deal-making efforts.  I'll have to, of course, intersperse blog posts with discussions of how my non-fiction book is coming, though I honestly think that process is a little bit less exciting.  It's downright boring at times, truth be told.  But there's always my reading going on in the background to discuss, so I doubt I'll lack for content.  But over and above that, what's the point of the blog?

What brought this up was a friend in the "social media" sphere posted a thing about SEO for blogs.  SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it's the bread and butter of e-commerce sites.  When you're trying to sell stuff online, you'll only be successful if people know you're there, and raising a site's standings in the search engine results, thereby letting people know you're there, is the point of SEO.  Even if you're selling stuff through regular channels, SEO can help make your web presence into a marketing tool instead of just another web site.  So, hey, if it's that full of awesome, why wouldn't I want it?  Well, probably because I'm really not trying to sell anything.  As I gallump along the publishing process, I realize that I might some day be trying to sell my books, true.  The book The Making of a Bestseller said that authors make our own best marketing channels, too.  I just don't see it, myself.  I've bought a lot of books, and not once have I been influenced to do so by the author's blog.

Have you?  What makes you buy a book?  Is there a point to an author having a blog?  If so, what is it?

Depending on the answers to those questions, then, some day you might see the full force of marketing and SEO come to life here.  For now, though, it's just a blog about a guy trying to write a book.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Hope none of my psycho friends take exception to this, but...sometimes psychology really boils down to just psychobabble.  It's just...bizarre.  Strange stuff.  And, when you read between the lines, it more often than not says "we don't know."  But that's just my somewhat amateur and very jaded perception.

Yes, I'm doing research.  Remember how glowingly I talked of researching when I was writing the fiction book?  That's because I was able to use sites like Wikipedia and Heck, I was researching fiction, so as long as I got something that sounded good, it was good.  Now, though, it's researching non-fiction.  Most of the book I'm already pretty knowledgeable in, but there are some aspects of each chapter that I have to look up, if for no other reason than to make sure I'm presenting reasonably current stuff.

Compared to a dissertation, it's not all that rigorous.  Compared to fiction research, it's quite tedious.

Take, for example, the current chapter on figuring out what you want to do with your life.  Every success book has one of those.  I know where I want to take the chapter, but I need to discuss the concept of Interest Inventories.  I mean, they're sort of kind of useful as long as you don't take them too seriously.  At least, the one I took back in high school was useful, in a "I probably should have paid attention back then" sort of way.  It told me I should become a teacher or a writer, after all.  Granted, I was taking it as part of the West Point admissions process, and so I made sure to keep re-rolling till I rolled a 20 on my Disbelieve check (ask a Dungeons and Dragons player if you don't get that).  What good would it have been to tell my West Point Liaison officer that I needed to become a teacher or a writer, two fields that really aren't big for Army officers?  Instead, I became an Infantry Officer, and sucked at it.  Then I became an Engineer Officer, and sucked at that.  Then I became a product engineer, and by that point I'd figured out how to make lemonade out of lemons, so I was...well, I was OK.  Then I became an electrical engineering grad student and flunked right out.  After a few more years of trying various other career paths, I settled into...teacher.

Don't get too excited, though.  There's plenty of research that says the career inventory stuff is psychobabble.  I know; I'm looking at it right now.  Granted, they don't say that; nobody would use the word "psychobabble" in a peer-reviewed publication.  Instead, they say things like, "It appears that getting exact three-letter RIASEC profile matches on even two inventories may be an infrequent occurrence" (Savickas & Taber, pg. 203).  In other words, had I taken another format of assessment, it may have told me to become, say, a stockbroker.  That still would've been rather useless, with me going into the Army come Hell or high water, but it's a far cry from teacher.  That, to me, is psychobabble.

Ah, well.  It's actually a little fun, after straying away from the scholarly type of "stuff," to get back into real research.  It's fun, anyway, to a point...and after that point, I want to get back to writing.

Speaking of writing...I have a few hundred words still to commit to the book tonight, so now is a good time to wish you good night.  Good night!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Writing non-fiction

What a great weekend it's been!  We went into Washington, D.C., Friday night and picked up a friend at the airport.  Spent Saturday in the Smithsonian, and I finally got to go see the Asian art exhibit at the Freer.  It's astoundingly beautiful, and it helped quite a bit in putting things in order for my third Return of the Gods book.  I still need more time...nearly an entire day or two, that exhibit, but it was a great start. 

Today I've gotten most of the day to write.  Writing non-fiction is significantly different from writing fiction, I'm finding.  For one thing, I'm pleased at my accomplishment, which was only about 3K words.  When writing fiction, a solid day at the keyboard would generate at least twice that.  But non-fiction requires a different part of the brain.  Instead of telling a story, massaging it out of the nether with creativity and a touch of humor, I'm talking to a different audience, telling a series of truths that I've known for a while.  I thought it would be easier, honestly, than the fiction writing.  I mean, it's all just the honest truth as I know it set up in a pattern that's already outlined.  It's not, though.  Easier, that is.  There's a lot of effort that goes into stringing together ideas in a persuasive manner, I'm finding.  I'm not shooting for any particular number of words as I write, though I kind of figured it would be less than I wrote for Return of the Gods.  It might be, but it's still a pretty involved process. 

So, all that being said, it's been a good, productive day, tacked on at the end of a good, enjoyable weekend.  Have a great week!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A story well told is good

I finished Water for Elephants today.  It was a good read.

After waking up in our hotel in D.C., I was reading in the bathroom (the only one, of course) when Heide needed in.  I told her it was perfect timing, because I'd pretty much finished the book, and "the bad guy died, while the good guy and girl got together and lived happily ever after."  When Heide jokingly jumped my case for revealing the end to her, I replied that that was the end to nearly every book I liked to read.  Then I realized the truth in my attempt at humor. 

Don't get me wrong...WFE is an awesome book.  You probably don't need my recommendation to read it, but if you do then you certainly have it.  It's a very well told story.  It's clearly well researched.  Most importantly, the telling of the story is entirely transparent.  It opens with an engaging scene, so unlike most books out there I didn't have any problem sticking with it at first.  It's told in the first person present and past tense.  Gruen does such a great job with that tense that it feels like Jacob is actually sitting there telling the story.  That's in my bathroom, too, and if I don't have a problem feeling like another old guy is sitting in my bathroom with me, then that's clearly a well-told story.

All that said, there's something to be said for the power of telling the same old story, dressed up differently, in an excellent way.  There doesn't have to be anything new at all about the plot.  The amount of hope that knowledge brings an author-wanna-be like me is immense, really.  I don't HAVE to come up with a brand new story idea.  All I have to do is take an already-used story idea, set it in a new setting, and tell it very, very well.  The good part of that is that I, like any other aspiring writer, can learn to tell a story very, very well.

So...with those words of hope, I say good night.  It's been a long day of touring and this old guy needs sleep.  So, what are your thoughts? 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hey, look! A squirrel....

I'm not easily distracted, I just....   Why does my scanner scan to .jpgs, while my work scanner only scans to .tifs?

So yeah...I started a new project today.  I feel perfectly justified doing so.  At this, in fact...I have been working with Matt and Crystal and all for six months.  It started as a trilogy, and then became, what do you call a two book series?  A bilogy?  Ick.  But anyway, the trilogy became two books which then became one book which then became two books again which has now become a trilogy with what was the second book now the third and making a lot more sense from a story perspective, and that book is yet to be written.  Phew.  160,000 words written and counting.

I really like Matt and Crystal, I really do.  It's just that immersion in one story line has become taxing.  I understand, now, why authors keep at least a couple of different series going at any given time, and Mr. Jordan, I take back everything I said about you doing Conan when I was hoping you'd finish WoT.  It just...gets old.

Now's a perfect time for a new project, really.  The second book is still largely crap, but it requires a fresh mind and perspective to revise it as much as it needs.  I tried last night, and though I successfully added a much-needed scene at the end, I didn't really "feel" it.  It's an important scene, too; when I had written the draft, I got to the climactic battle scene, had a lot of fun swinging the prose back and forth through the clang and whoosh of combat, and then...ended the book.  It's missing the "so what was it all about" wrap up part that, if I leave it out, will tick off the readers.  Problem is, if I just vomit a bunch of "what was it all about" onto the page, as I suspect I did last night, it won't be very fulfilling either.  What I fear, then, is that I could spend a lot of time revising only to be making it just as bad, or even possibly worse. 

Meanwhile, the first book is on the way to the editor's desk, and that's probably a month wait once it gets there.  No point revising that one any further. 

So...this morning, I chased a new squirrel.  Wrote around 500 words, in the short time I had before work, on the non-fiction book I've been gonna write.  I've actually been quite good about being gonna write it, refusing up to now to dive into this project despite having it entirely outlined.  Now, though, I have no reason not to jump right on in.  It's a fun project, really, and allows me to speak directly from my experiences as a career college DoE.  It's also first person, so it feels a little like blogging, except that I have to be careful to not just write in steam-of-conscience mode.  But that one exception aside, this is a very fun project so far.

Have a great day chasing your own squirrels! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Just papers....

It's really a rather strange feeling, sending a manuscript away to be looked at.  And then to tell a big fat hairy lie...sheesh. 

Today I slipped out between the thunderstorms (and we've had some doosies today!) and went to the post office with a manila envelope containing the manuscript and an outline.  Oh, and a check.  I did decide on an editor, by the with a track record.  She's not cheap, but I've been assured by more than one person that I'll get my money's worth, so...yeah.  It was a big check. 

FedEx'ing 250 pages seemed a tad outrageously overpriced, so I decided on the good ole' U.S. Postal Service, Priority mail.  Oh, I could have sent an electronic file to be edited through "track changes" in Microsoft Word, but I've always preferred revising in hard copy.  In fact, at home now I have a few older versions of the manuscript all marked up.  I'm saving them because I hope that some day I'll be a billionaire bestseller and they'll be valuable...or on the off chance that we have a cataclysm and I need stuff to start fires.  One way or another, they may be worth something some day. 

Anyway, I handed the parcel over to the Postal Service employee behind the counter and asked for Priority mail, and then she gave me the ritual queries about whether it contained anything flammable, breakable, perishable, or capable of destroying the entire state of California.  I smiled, and said, "No, it's just papers."  Immediately, I hated myself for that response.  Just papers, my tuckass.  It's six months of my life spent staying up late, getting up early, sitting at the computer all weekend, editing, revising, thinking...yeah, all that.  And more!  This, lady postal employee, is the NEXT BEST selling novel!  It's the best thing since sliced bread, for srs. 


OK, 'nuff of that.  It's been a long road, is all.  I'm excited to be at this point, but I'm also a little apprehensive.  It's just...strange.  Part of me hopes the editor deposits the check, reads over the manuscript, and says "Ohmygod I wouldn't change a thing this is the best ever it's a new bestseller I guarantee it'll do well thankyouforthecheck it's grrrrreat ohmygod!"  The fear, really, is that the editor will do what I'm paying her for to the extreme that the manuscript comes back to me with a big "F" (for "Firestarter") on the front.  I mean, I like it, and Heide likes it, but the editor is, like, well, real. 

OK, OK, that really is 'nuff emoblogging for the day.  I'll just get busy revising Ascension tonight while I wait eagerly for the results.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Damn, this is good.

I try very hard to be the kind of person who's not considered self-absorbed.  I know I fail...a lot...but the effort is there, anyway.  That said, I have to admit that there's a strange self-absorbed pleasurable giddiness that comes from reading over a work of fiction that wasn't written as a result of any teacher's command, when you can read over text that you breathed life into yourself and say directly to the author, "Damn, this is good." 

Damn well oughtta be good.  I started writing the book sometime back in February; February 16 was the date I posted in my guild's World of Warcraft forum that I would be taking "a little time off" to write this thing.  March 20 was the date I posted to this blog that I was was in a post titled "Finis" that, I admit, reads as though I was a bit drunk.  I really had no idea at the time how much work still stretched out before me.  I revised it once, and then let it rest as I wrote what is now book two (a.k.a. Return of the Gods: Ascension) and let several friends read over it.  I could tell then based on the relatively few critiques I received (it's tough, I admit, to tell your friend that his stuff stinks) and what was written in the ones I did get, that it wasn't up to snuff.  So I went at revising it again, removing wholesale sections, shifting stuff around, and wordsmithing in general. 

Now, nearly six months after I started, it's really getting there, and that makes me indescribably happy.  Heide is still doing a final read-through, and she's catching some great stuff, asking some important why questions.  As I'd added and removed and moved words, I'd forgotten a couple of details about when certain characters learned certain stuff, and so I've got a couple instances in the book where people are commenting on things they can't know yet.  Ah,'s all fixable, and she's doing a great job catching it.  We're in the last couple of days, in fact...she has a few dozen pages left to read, to be revised after, and then I'm ready to package it up like a manuscript and either send it to an editor or send queries to agents.  In either case, I feel like I've accomplished something significant. 

I've written a novel.  I hope I've written a publishable novel. 

That's probably enough blustery stuff for one post, so with that I'll say...hope everyone has a happy and safe Independence Day Holiday, if you're in the U.S., and if not, hope you still have a happy and safe 4th of July.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Blackheads and dandelions

When I was a teenager, there were two activities I hated beyond all others: squeezing blackheads and pulling weeds in the lawn.  Neither was particularly painful or difficult, granted, and both seemed quite necessary, as the blackheads, if left in the skin of my face, would invariably become whiteheads, a.k.a. zits, that would show up at the exact inopportune moment to ruin a nice romantic encounter...or what passed for them at that know, like when Sally McCordle (name changed to protect the blissfully unaware) smiled, yes, actually smiled, at me...or would have if not for the huge alien life form growing on my cheek...and thus crush my hopes and dreams of a normal life for the remainder of my time on the planet.  Whew, I kinda hope that last sentence was at least close to grammatically correct.  In any event, the other was important because, well, my stepdad said so, and he was bigger and meaner than me. 

Many Saturday afternoons, then, were spent in the front yard with a funky little tool he'd bought.  It looked like a screwdriver that had had its business end smushed.  The goal, then, was to push the thinner blade of the tool down beside an offending weed--in California, it was usually a dandelion--and give it a little twist and a flick.  Yes, that description sounds kind of like what the students at Hogwarts were taught to do with their wands, but it was absolutely nothing like that in reality.  There, the swish and flick made feathers float and turned rats into cups, but in my yard it just made it so I could then grasp the weed and pull most of it out with some small amount of effort and a big clod of topsoil.  One is magical, the other is dirty. 

The interaction with dirt wasn't really what I hated about it, though. It was that I was never really done, it seemed.  I'd start at one corner of the lawn and sweep up and down, moving across the expanse in a deliberate pattern.  After reaching the other side and obtaining a glowing feeling akin to having won the homecoming game or actually gotten a "hello" from Sally, I'd do this little celebratory dance that, from a distance, must have looked a lot like standing up, and walk back toward the house.  Only I'd never make it.  I'd get some distance toward the door: sometimes a quarter of the way, sometimes halfway, sometimes close enough that I could see the spiderwebs embedded in those funky bushes we all had at our entryways in the late 70's and early 80's, and I'd nearly trip over another dandelion.  How I'd missed it in my sweep, I never ever had any idea.  But I'd always miss one, and its discovery would lead to another, and that to another.  It was the task that never ended, because some strange invisible person was going along behind me planting dandelions as rapidly as I was taking them out.  Or so it seemed.  Same thing with...well, the other activity, but I'm done talking about bathroom practices of teenagers.  For this post, anyway. 

What brings this to mind now is that having a manuscript that's ALMOST ready to go out is roughly the same.  I'll lovingly open it and flip to a page and start reading the prose that I wrote five and six months ago and have since gone through...TWICE!...and revised, and sure enough, there's a grammatical, dandelion.  How did I miss that unneeded adverb? I'll ask myself reproachfully.  Grrrr.  Is it EVER going to be done?  I can imagine myself standing up and doing a little celebratory dance that from a distance looks like a guy taking a 200+ page document off of a printer, opening it one last time to make sure the ink didn't run out in the middle, and wham!  Tripped!  Right over a bad sentence construction. 

I guess that's what editing is for, but that feels a little to me like my stepdad coming out to inspect the lawn.  He'd always find another dandelion that I hadn't tripped over, and that was more embarrassing than my own late discoveries. 

Ah, well...back to examining the manuscript.  Have a great and happy Fourth of July weekend!