Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Perseverance or insanity?

I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature. - John D. Rockefeller

We've probably all heard the great quotes on the importance of perseverance, right?  There are many, including the one above and the one about getting knocked down 6 times and getting up 5--or is it the other way around?  There are, in any event, all sorts of good things that are said about the value of just keeping on keeping on. 

There's one problem, though.  Another relatively famous quote that's been attributed, near as I can tell, to almost every smart person in the history of the world, tells us "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." 

At what point do perseverance and insanity collide? When do you stop doing what you've been doing the same way you've been doing it? 

Last week I queried eleven agents.  I've received five rejections.  Not too bad, really, from what I hear.  Part of me, I confess, wants to give up and just start spending the evenings with my family instead of slaving away over a laptop keyboard.  It's a small part, mostly due to the fact that I've heard all about the value of perseverance.  But--here's the big but--do I keep querying the same way, or do I rewrite my query letter?  At what point do I say "this isn't getting the job done" and scrap it for a revised version? 

I've got five more agents on the list to query, and I'll have a query out to each of them tonight.  I think I am going to change the way my query letter is written somewhat, try a little different approach, and see if it works better.  I only need one yes, after all. 

Well, here goes insanity.  Or is it perseverance? 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lights are on but I'm not home

Heh...well, the power came back on last night.  It's amazing how much joy you feel at such a simple thing as driving back into your neighborhood to see the lamps lit for the first time in days.  Unfortunately, the lights were out during my prime writing time over the weekend, and so my story is still just moping along.  I pushed out another 2000 words last night, and another 1000 this morning, but I can't write when I'm not at home.  Hopefully my efforts this weekend will bring the finished story into the world. 

Speaking of efforts--a SASE found its way back to me.  This one made me a little sad, as it was one of the agencies from whom I'd really been hoping to hear something positive.  It was unmistakable, though; I'd put my own mailing address in both spots on the envelope in part to make them recognizable and in part to prevent my evil mailman from returning it to the sender after stuffing my mailbox with wads of junk mail and sales papers.  So there it was, and when I opened it out fell the crisp stationery of one of the larger agencies, its surface emblazoned with the following message:

Dear Author,

I appreciate that you thought of me for your project, and I apologize for responding with this form letter.  I hate getting called for jury duty this way...But [sic] I usually receive about 300 inquiries a week and I'm unable to respond personally to each one.

Rest assured though, I read them all--including your own, which isn't right for me and my list.  As an agent, I have to jump on those projects that excite me from the get go and step aside on the ones that I know I can't properly champion.

Many thanks for the look.

All best,
Agent's name
Agency name

That's five.  I think I am getting a bit of a scab over the wound now; though I was truly hoping for great news from this agency in particular, the rejection doesn't hurt at all.  It's just another bump on the road.  Aspiring writers, then, can take some measure of happiness from the fact that rejection letters do, in fact, stop reaching into your chest and drawing out your heart after a certain number have reached you. 

As for the contents, I'm not trying to get snarky here, of course, but--well, I'd think that a literary agent would use proper grammar in his self-described form letter.  Am I wrong for such an assumption?  I'll overlook errors in personal correspondence all day long, but a form letter?  And especially a form letter that carries a negative message?  I wonder how many times he gets snarky responses.  I'll not give him one, of course, as there's no good that might come from it.  It's just a bit strange, is all I'm saying. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Looking forward to seeing the light

Unlike a great many blog posts I've made, this one's title is literal.

Yesterday, frustrated that the power was still out, I navigated to the power company's web site, logged into my account, and accessed the page to check the status of the outage.  Lots of outages, they said.  Turns out they were working on mine that very minute, they said.  The estimated time of restoration was a slot from noon to 6 pm yesterday, they said.

Like a fool, I believed them.

I finally got home from work at about 7 pm, giving them an hour (ish) leeway.  It was dark still.

It's funny what the absence of power does.  I've lived without it before.  Up in Trapper Creek, we went nine months without power or running water.  We had a telephone because the phone company pulled an orange cord from the TID (the box that they own at the street) to the house and left it hanging there.  I used to say it was a booby-trap for the moose who ran through the yard.  But we had no power, which meant no computers.  That was actually kind of refreshing, because it was during the time in my life when most of my professional efforts centered around the lousy little metallic containers of circuitry and attitudes.  As for the other benefits of modern electrical service, it's nice having a little switch on the wall to turn the lights on, but you can get used to the other way as well.  It's a routine, really.  Somebody, usually the husband, jumps out of bed and waddles to the stove to stoke it up a bit after lighting one of the lanterns.  Fire blazing, he then careens back to the bed and leaps under the covers to warm his backside back up as the house itself begins to wake up.

Do that every day when it's a lifestyle you choose, it's not bad.  Do that out of necessity because the power company can't get electrons to your house to make the clever little switches on the wall work, it's annoying.  Have the power company be incorrect about when they'll get power back up, it's downright maddening.

Anyway, it looks from their site like the power is back up already; at least, when I go and check on a status, they tell me "You have to report an outage to get a status update" so either they fixed it and reset it, or they reset it without fixing it just to tick me off more.  The exciting thing is that I'll be able to write again tonight if it's back on.  Oh, and we'll have air conditioning once again.  And TV, too--though it's too late to catch the new episode of Dr. Who.

All things considered, though, I'm really looking forward to having a powered home tonight. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

All OK, but writing is limited

Well, I suppose I can say "at least we're all OK."  It sounds like a cop-out, though.  Irene's winds blew a bit, breaking off some small branches in my neighborhood and carpeting one road with lots of leaves.  Rain fell also, though there wasn't any flooding.  Oh, and our power went out.  At first, it was kind of fun; I switched the laptop to low battery use mode and kept writing.  We pulled out our candles and flashlights and prepared for a camping sort of evening.  Surely, the power would be back on soon, right?

It's now about 26 hours later, and still no sign of power.  I'm writing this from my desk at work, where I came to get a little bit of contact in with the people who work for me, letting them know that we'll still be open tomorrow.  But no power at home, and the power company is saying they have no idea when it'll be on. 

That really throws a damp cloth over my writing for the time being. 

At least we're all OK! 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

An in-tense effort: revisiting verb tenses and POV

I've discussed tenses and points of view (POV) before.  Fact is, the subject is a Writers 101 level topic.  In fact, if you're considering becoming a successful, professional writer, it seems they belong at an 099, or remedial, level.  It's not always as easy as that, though.  There are some subtleties involved, and I ran across one last night. 

My new Work In Progress (WIP) is a science fiction short (ish) novella in which a young Stacy gets to know Matt and Sorscha.  I'd written about 4,000 words as of my arrival at home last night, and--to be frank--it was boring me.  Yes, I thought (and still do) that I'd come up with a pretty decent idea for plot and conflict, but the storytelling wasn't popping.  Then I remembered the deal with first person POV.  It has the potential to make storytelling pop, so why not?  Clearly, this is Stacy's story, so it should be her POV. I sat down last night, then, and started the task that somehow, in my naivete, I thought would be a simple search-and-replace, "Stacy" for "I," "her" for "my," etc.  It wasn't so simple, though. 

My Facebook post from while I was working on it:

Well, crap. Changing from third person to first person point of view also involves changing the past tense to the past perfect tense. It's a P.I.T.A.

My friend responded, and we had some back and forth:
Her: Thank you for realizing that ... I would hate to read your book with imperfect tenses.
Me: Wouldn't want to make you tense.
Her: Too late ...
Me: It's past?
Her: tense
Me: As long as you're present for it.
Her: you got me a present?? what is it?
Me: The future.
Her: Well, that doesn't work ... I'm not there yet. Or am I?
Me: You weren't, but now you are. No, wait--now! No, wait--now! That's the problem with the future; it's always in the past before you realize it's present.
Her: Dammit! Don't do this to me apr├ęs-martini!
Me: The mere fact that you can type it means you win....
Her: Yay, I win! Wait, what did I win?
Me: The future.
Her: Oh, crap ... that's not looking good ...

After the exchange above, another friend of mine (an actual English teacher--a college level one, at that) signed in to the conversation.  She understandably complained that too many people overuse the perfect tenses in their writing.  She's right; I've seen it myself.  "I had gone to the store, and then I had bought a pack of gum, and then I had come home," instead of "I went to the store, bought a pack of gum, and came home."  Ick.  I think she was worried that I was falling into that trap.  Not so! 

See, there's a subtle shift that comes about when you switch who's telling the story.  The Almighty Narrator of Awesome Almightiness (that would be me) tells the story in past tense.  Sure, sometimes a perfect tense or a progressive tense has to have slipped in (ahem) but 99% of the verbs in a third person story, I think, should be straight past tense.  Stacy, though, doesn't see the story like I do.  She lived it.  As she's telling it, she's thinking about what was happening then, what was going to happen, and what had happened.  That's part of the pop of the first person POV, I think, but it's also a challenge in terms of technical verb tense management coupled with smooth storytelling. 

It's done with the shift, now, and it made for an interesting challenge.  It also made for a much more interesting story, IMHO.  I'm looking forward to finishing this thing and getting it out for people to read. 

Some day I'll also be able to shift tenses from "I was going to publish a novel" to "I published a novel" to "I made a lot of money after I had published the first novel."  Looking forward to that last. 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Getting numb

The wound is, I think, getting numb.  I received Rejection #4 today, and shrugged.  Eh, it's just another bump on the road to Publishtown.

Somewhere somebody is kicking a kitten over that horrible metaphor.  I only leave it in the blog now, in fact, because I'm sort of evil that way.

Regardless, it's true that I'm not as sensitive to this rejection as I was to the last.  Might be because the agent was farther down on my list, but that probably isn't a significant factor.  There's a Bookends, LLC, blog post today, in fact ( that tells us aspiring authors to ask questions of our agents, to make sure they're "the right fit."  Frankly, at this point, what I think would make an agent "the right fit" is if he/she asked me to sign a contract.  I know, I know, that makes me into a literary slut, but that shoe does seem to fit my foot nicely. Thus, where they are on my list is really rather irrelevant at this point. 

Nah, what probably made this one suck a bit less than the one on Wednesday is that I've gotten a Plan B between then and now.  When you haven't created anything beyond Plan Uno, it sucks to see evidence that it's falling apart.  When you have options, though, it's much easier to smile and let the chips fall.

So--all that said, the one this morning was probably the nicest one I've received so far:


Thank you so much for writing me about your project.  I read and consider each query carefully and, while yours is not exactly what I am looking for, I would certainly encourage you to keep trying.  I know your work is important to you and I am grateful that you wrote to me.

All best,

Really Nice Agent

See?  Wasn't that nice?  She even spelled my name right and everything.  :-)

Onward to Plan B....

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A changed direction, sort of

Hey, I didn't receive a rejection today!  I know, that shouldn't be noteworthy, but I've been three for three on the last few days, and so it was actually kind of nice to not need to tell myself to buck up and keep on keepin' on.  That said, it really shouldn't be noteworthy.  I sent out eleven queries to agents who claim to respond within a few weeks to a couple of months, if at all.  It's not surprising I got the outright, quickie rejections out of the way immediately. 

My plan, though, shifted.  A changed direction, sort of.  An ever-evolving approach to my dawning career, if you will. 

Initially, as in a couple of days ago, I'd started writing a short story in the hopes of being published by one of the magazines that currently do such things.  Today, though, I started really looking into "indie," or independent, publishing.  It's really fairly easy, much easier than being published by a magazine.  It can also be more financially rewarding, and less demanding on word count.  I think I'm going to go that way. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rejection Number 3

I know, I know--anybody reading this who's been at it for a while is laughing right now.  "So?  Three is nothing."  Yeah, yeah. 

Rejection note number one was easy; it was a bland "I don't handle new authors in your genre."  OK, no problem.  Number two, I was a trooper.  On today's, though, it started to get a little old. 

Dear Author:

Thank you so much for sending the (redacted) Agency your query. We'd like to apologize for the impersonal nature of this standard rejection letter. On average, we receive about 100 email query letters a day and despite that, we do read each and every query letter carefully. Unfortunately, this project is not right for us. Because this business is so subjective and opinions vary widely, we recommend that you pursue other agents. After all, it just takes one "yes" to find the right match. 

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors. 

I'm sure it'll get numb eventually.  For now, though--blarg. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Thank you, Stephen King

Writer's block hit me for real last night. 

Granted, it had been a long day, and I was taking off on a tangential project for which I hadn't invested any planning time.  It's not surprising, then, that the extent of my writing last night consisted of opening a fresh, white, clean document in Word and setting the style to double-space, 12pt. Times New Roman, first line indent. I typed a couple of characters, and then deleted them, and finally went to bed. 

On a note that will be more clearly related in a moment, I received my first note of rejection yesterday.  My first!  The bubble is burst, the cherry gone.  I have now been rejected, and by no less than an agent--a partner, at that--at the agency that represents the goddess of fantasy herself, Marion Zimmer Bradley. 

Boy, I got conflicting emotions from that. 

First, it wasn't really a rejection.  The polite e-mail merely said that he's not working with brand new authors in my genre right now.  Okay, I guess it was a rejection, just not a personal one.  When I get e-mails or letters saying that I'm not good enough for them, or that my novel stinks, or that I need to lose some weight and work out a bit before they'll talk to me, that'll be personal.  For now, though, a "hey, I'm not interested in the category you represent," is pretty painless. 

Painlessness aside, it's still a no.  I've now heard back from one of eleven agents I queried.  That's nine percent.  It only leaves ten who might say yes.  My stalwart friends on Facebook have pointed out that many great and now-famous works required far more than eleven no's before they hit a yes.  "The Help was rejected 60 times," one said.  Yeah, thanks.  The words are inspirational and all, but I can't help it.  I want it now.  Now, now, now, now, now.  I know what others have gone through, and I know that my desire is unrealistic, but it doesn't keep me from wanting it.  Now. 

All things considered, then--yeah, it's my first rejection.  I'm not torn up about it by any means, but I'm still looking forward to a yes which might take, based on the data my friends posted to my Facebook page, a few years to find. 


That thought process led me to a "what do I do now?"  I mean, I'm a practical sort of man, and so I'm not going to start limbering up my book-signing hand just yet.  I've heard it's important to have a work in progress, in progress, while you wait to hear back.  I've got Book 2 written and needing revision, but it hardly seems worth it to polish that book when I'm still waiting to sell the first.  I've also got my success book to finish, but I'm tabling that until I get through this process and can then focus on building the requisite platform for non-fiction. 


Short story time.  Short stories are easier, they say, to get published than are novels, at least for the first-timer.  They also have their place in the training repertoire of a writer-in-training; George R.R. Martin says that a novelist should focus on developing his or her craft on short stories before even trying to write a novel.  Most importantly, once there's a short story out in a reputable magazine under the name Evan Koenig, I'll no longer be a brand new, unpublished author. Thus, it really makes sense for me to write a short story or three. 

That decision made--which short story?  I've got a couple of ideas--solid ones, I think--for paranormal stories having absolutely nothing to do with the world that is Matt, Crystal, and Sorscha, but something is nagging at me, telling me to try to get them out there.  There's plenty of story, both pre and post Cataclysm, sitting in my head waiting for a short.  Only problem is: what?

Thus began my long evening spent watching the pixels on my monitor give off light. They really do twinkle if you stare at them hard enough.

This morning, I decided to do what Stephen King suggested in On Writing: go for a walk.  Hey, it's something I've been meaning to do anyway, and in this case it really did help.  By the time I was back, I had a decent idea for a story.  Now, keep in mind that I'm being very picky; the short story has to stand on its own; it shouldn't refer to the book in any way.  People who read it have to just enjoy it for the story that it is, a tale about Matt, Stacy, and Sorscha.  Only later, once they've read both it and the book, will they realize that the one is back story for the other.

I hope, anyway.

It's a tall order, but after the walk I was able to put in about 500 words.  I'm still thinking on it, and I believe that by the weekend I'll have a pretty decent bit of short fiction.  Science fiction, in this case. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

To Choose an Agent

There are a lot of agents.  Some are harder to approach than others. 

I've got ten on my radar right now; we'll see how those play out.  Two more are accepting queries once again at the beginning of next month, so the number may go up to twelve. 

How'd I choose them?  Well, part of the process was the same way I chose my editor: track record.  Specifically, I looked at how many of my own favorite authors they represented.  Actually, though, I said that backward.  First I looked at my own bookshelves and listed the authors (in a spreadsheet, of course--you can take the boy out of engineering, but....) whose names were emblazoned on the spines contained therein.  Mostly, anyway.  I didn't write a book about surviving in the woods with just a pen-knife, or just a shelter, or whatever, so the authors that wrote those books were out.  Hey, I enjoy the books, but I didn't write one of them.  Same goes for science fiction is not fantasy.  The two fill the same need in the human spirit, but in very different ways.  What I wrote was fantasy.  What Isaac Asimov wrote--mostly--was science fiction; therefore I'm not going to plunder his agent list.

What I ended up with was an impressive list of all-stars: David Eddings, Raymond Feist, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Goodkind, Mercedes Lackey, Katherine Kurtz, Richard Knaak, Piers Anthony, Christopher Paolini (he's only written one saga, but it's a good one), and R.A. Salvatore. 

That's some big names.

There's a site that lists every author along with his or her agent:  It proved relatively useful for me in the process of linking author to agent.  I was also able to find some through Googling the author's name followed by the word "agent."  In most cases, it's not really that hard to figure out who represents whom. 

I added from a couple of other sources.  First, my editor gave me a name that she knew personally, and she's also handed me permission to drop her name in the process.  That, from what I can tell, will be quite valuable.  Also, I've been following agents and their blogs for a while now, and so I was able to pick several out of my "Facebook - Twitter - blogs" category to query immediately.  I did leave two of the agents I've gotten to know on Facebook out; one isn't taking queries right now, and the other is the guy who called me "asinine" for a response I wrote.  I have no real desire to form a partnership with a guy who thinks it's okay to flip right from idea to insult in a conversation, especially with someone you don't really know all that well. 

So, after much of a day's worth of work, I have ten agents to query.  Somewhere between nine and ten of those I'll end up not working with.  We'll see which it is later. 

Have a great day! 

Sunday, August 21, 2011


For a writer looking to sell his book, the activity of seeking an agent's representation is called querying.  It's an interesting process, overall, but more on that in a minute. 

Meanwhile, I know this should be terrifying.  I said as much in last night's blog post.  I should have been more specific, though.  The idea of querying is terrifying.  There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of agents out there.  Many of them are so wonderfully well-fed that they're not accepting queries from newbies like me currently.  Many, if not most (and no, I'm not taking the time to count them--I'm not that anal retentive!) of the remainder don't represent authors in my genre.  That narrows the huge list I can compile from the Internet as well as my own personal copy of the Novel & Short Story Writer's Market down to--well, a less huge list. 

All are different, too.  That's what I meant by "interesting process."  Some agents have been around a long, long time, and some represent authors whom I very much wish to be like in terms of commercial success.  Others are new, hungry, and though their success list may be short at this point, there's no telling which of them might in the near future score huge successes for their authors. 

On top of that, nearly every one of them has a different process in place to accept queries.  Some of the rules appear to be made to comply with the agent's personal habits and work flow preference.  Others just seem to be there as a gatekeeper, keeping the lazy or stupid out of their inbox.  One agent, for example, requires query letters to state a publisher and that publisher's minimum word count to consider a fantasy submission, and the publisher has to be taken from a certain list.  In this case, I'm sure the agent already knows this information, and the data doesn't make a damn bit of difference as to the nature of the query.  It's a brown M&M test, is all. 

Remember the brown M&M test?  Megaband Van Halen requires in its contracts that a bowl of M&Ms, sans brown ones, be provided to them pre-concert.  It's not because they don't like brown, and it has nothing to do with the quality of their--um, do I call it singing?--or of the facility.  It's a test to see if people are paying attention to the items in the contract.  Brilliant, really. 

Took me a while to find a publishing company that lists on its site the minimum submission word count, but I did. 

Anyway, as I said before, the idea of querying is what's terrifyingly daunting.  There's a huge quagmire, and I know that it's going to be difficult to keep track of, and I know that somebody's going to reject me like a one-armed GI Joe doll.  It should be terrifying. 

It's not, though.  It's actually exciting as all hell.  After months of creative writing and creative revising and not-so-creative editing, I'm really just ready to get'r'done.  I'm confident that the book is good.  Heide is confident that the book is good.  The editor is confident that the book is good.  That's three for three.  My query letter boilerplate stuff is also good, and also approved by three of the three.  My spreadsheet--yes, I'm going anal-retentive on this one--is fired up, and I'm listing agents and reasons and sources and brown M&M tests.  Once I'm done I can sort and prioritize, and then bam

I'm ready. 

I'm querying. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

There comes a point....

There comes a point in any written work where you have to say it's as good as it's going to get.  It's a foreign concept to my math, science, and engineering background, in which a problem is either done or it ain't, is either right or it ain't, but creative arts are more flewfy than that.  Education kind of got me into that mindset, but I've had to work to get to where I understand it in terms of creative writing. 

Fact is, there is always something that looks like it should be changed.  There is always a comma that you can change into a semicolon.  There are always phrases that you can reword.  There is always going to be a preposition you can switch out for another. 

There comes a point, though, where it has to be done.  Otherwise, I'll keep on revising for the next few years, and it will very likely not get any better in terms of its quality as a story. 

Why is that not so easy to come to grips with?  Well, because the next step is hard.  Technically, it's not really that difficult; all I do is go through and determine which agents would be best to represent me and send them a letter requesting such.  Several of them will probably say no, but I only need one yes.  It's the whole "no" part that gets in my way a bit, though.  As much as I bluster about confidence, this work has really become my baby.  It's a part of me.  I've worked on it for over six months now.  Thousands of hours have gone into it.  To walk easily into rejection just doesn't sit well with my psyche. 

Yet I'm doing it.  My efforts will still of course be chronicled here as they go.  For tonight, though, it's time to rest.

Word count:  90,160
Page count:  300

Friday, August 19, 2011

Writer's block?

When is it really writer's block, and when is it just a matter of being too freakin' tired to write?

Technically, I guess, they're the same thing.  My old, noble friend, the sage over there at Wikipedia, says that writer's block "is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work."  So there you have it--being too freakin' tired to write is writer's block.

That seems too simple, though.  By that definition, every night when I go to sleep I'm experiencing writer's block. When I'm at work, it's writer's block too.  Certainly, my mind has the ability to produce new prose when I'm at my Dean's desk, but that still doesn't give me the ability to write it down, which, to me, is the central meaning of the descriptor "writer."  Otherwise it would be called "thinker," a job that pays far, far less than even the trivial wages most writers get.

When I hear of writer's block, the term conjures sad images.  I see a guy sitting at a typewriter, sad mask solidly glued to his face, with one word or maybe two poignantly inscribed (or at least typed) on the paper.  That hasn't been me at all over the past few days.  I haven't been wrestling with an inability to figure out what to write.  I've just been too tired to actually do it.

Night before last I gave up and walked away from the mere two fresh paragraphs I'd written in the last scene in the last chapter that I'm doing for the book before I quit messing with it and query agents.  It's frustrating, being this close yet seeing almost no progress at all, and I kept hammering my self, my ego, at the keyboard as though willing the prose to flow would make it happen.  It didn't.  I was too damn tired.  I had 40 hours in at work by early Wednesday.  By the time I got home I'd zipped right past 50.  I'd finally decided to go home instead of finishing the latest report because I caught myself staring at the screen trying to break apart the letters into individual dots and shapes.  Two paragraphs of crap, then, was about the best I could put out there.

Last night I broke free--of this writer's block, or rest deprivation, whichever you call it--and managed to get a few pages written.  Not only that, but they were good pages.  At least, I think they were; they satisfied my test: I was enjoying the hell out of the writing, and when I read some to Heide later, she laughed.

All writer's block probably can't be cured by taking some time to rest, but this was.  I suppose I should be happy, but--now I just want to keep on going.  Finish, even. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Some conflicts are better than others

I finally figured it out--"it" being the esoteric quality that makes me walk away from some books in disgust while I keep others open with the pages turning at a steady rate.  Okay, I'll be honest--I figured out one of the esoteric qualities.  I'm quite sure there are others.

In this case, though, the "it" is the type of conflict.  Now, I think every aspiring writer recalls a class in writing in which the teacher explains, in a more or less interesting manner, that the "plot"--the term that refers to the essence of the story's path through events--revolves around conflict, and that there are five basic types of conflict known to man.  These five types of conflict have formed the greater part of the written legacy of mankind for as long as we've been writing.  Come on, I know you recall this lesson.  Recite it with me.

Conflict Numero Uno: Man versus Self.  A character, main or otherwise, interests us in the telling of his battles against something in himself, typically either his conscience or his internally-defined limitations.  "Oh, but I can't do this.  Oh, yes I can.  Oh, no I can't," argue Harry Potter and all the other whining would-be heroes in this type of conflict.  Number Two is Man versus Man: Harry Potter versus Voldemort, and Harry Potter versus Professor Snape, and Professor Snape versus Voldemort, and even Harry Potter versus Hermione versus RonRon versus Voldemort for a little bit of wicked foursome action.  This one's probably the easiest conflict to write about, because it's just a matter of "Hey, you took my girl!  No, I didn't!  *bang* *pow* *biff*"  Simple stuff, right?

Conflict Three: Man versus Society, or at least a Very Large Group who is calling a certain number of the shots.  Conflict Four is Man versus Nature, and don't we all love a good nature story?  Especially so, I add, when nature is wrapping itself like a huge animated vine around the protagonist's ankles to bring him down.  That's not the only natural force involved in the fourth type of conflict, of course, but it's the most visual.  Conflict Five is Man versus Fate: Harry Potter must die, and so must Perseus.  Are they masters of their own destiny, or victims?

There you have it--the five conflicts.  Everybody knows them, and pretty much everyone agrees with that categorization.  Everyone, that is, who's never had a love affair go wrong.  In that case, you have something that melds Man versus Self with Man versus Woman with Man versus Society, and don't you dare forget about Nature.  That's four different conflicts, wrapped powerfully into one bloody emotional mess I'll just call Man versus The New Ex. 

Here's the problem, though.  I like reading most stories because doing so makes me forget about life's troubles.  Reading is thus escapism of the grandest, most acceptable form.  I enjoy titanic battles pitting man against man, or men against men, or even (perhaps especially so) women against women (woo hoo, mud wrestling! *ahem*).  Man versus Self is great as well, as are the other types of conflict.  But--BUT--but I've lived through too many Man versus The New Ex types of conflicts to ever, never, never in a million years, want to be reminded of that.  That's the thing.  I don't want that type of conflict in a book.  It's not that I'm particularly squeamish; give me bloody battle scenes any day of the week.  A woman scorned, though?  Nope, too gory for me.

That's what ticked me off about The Magicians, which is in turn what brought this revelation to blindingly clear light for me.  I'll try to dance delicately around it to keep from spoiling the plot for anyone who wishes to read the book who hasn't yet, but--well, hell, I can't.  Quentin cheats on Alice.  Uh, oh.  And then she cheats on him.  Were this an actual book instead of an audiobook, I'd be flipping the pages rapidly to find the point where (I hope) they fall back into each others' arms, or finally kill one another, one of the two.  Don't care, really, just please, God (or at least, please, author) save me from the long, long narrative about the white-hot nugget of searing jealous rage that slithers down Quentin's throat and burns his esophagus and then his heart (no, it's certainly not an anatomy book) and then wraps itself through his stomach and his intestines, takes a jog around his balls then down one leg, burns his big toe pretty fiercely, and travels scorchingly back up the other leg into his spleen.  I've personally lived the whole Man versus New Ex schtick (though I have to say I was never the one to cheat) and it sucks.  I don't want to escape into a story about it.  That's not my idea of an escape.  Escape FROM it?  Perhaps.  Escape TO it?  Nope.  Nope.  Triple nope.

So, all this being said, I have to believe that some conflicts are better than others.  It's probably a personal thing and thus only important in the lens of the reader at the time, but--haven't all adults at one point faced the New Ex conflict?  Yes, it exists, but I want to go there on a vacation from reality as much as I want to go to Greenland on a vacation from the winter.

Ah, well.  At least, you can trust that I'll never have that kind of conflict in my books.

Well, probably not, anyway.

Have a great evening!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The synopsis

I haven't blogged in nearly a week.  It's been a long one; at my day job, it's been the end of one module and the start of another, which is my absolute busiest.  We also had someone in the family down for a couple of days due to dental extractions, and so we were busy with that too.  I've been keeping up, mostly, with writing/revising, but that's all I've been able to accomplish. 

Anyway, I just a few minutes ago reached a major milestone.  A couple of them, in fact.  First, I made it to The End of the red-lined manuscript.  Literally.  The last thing I did was delete the words "The End" that I had so smartly written those months ago.  They came back with a big red line through them, so they're gone now.  That's OK; they felt good to write at the time, but I don't need them any more. 

I'd been trying to revise everything needed as I plowed through the red-lined manuscript, but that proved impossible.  I was slow starting because of how long I took writing the Prologue, a bit of text that wasn't even part of the red-lined MS.  I then added three pages to the beginning of the first scene.  They needed adding; I'm really loving the story as a result.  I also added quite a bit of text where the editor called for expansion of various things throughout.  I didn't add it all, though.  There are a couple of scenes the editor and I decided to add that I sailed right past as I began realizing how much it bogged me down to wholesale re-write stuff.  Thus, I'm not done revising.  I'm just really close.  And, engineer at heart that I am, I'm tickled pink to know exactly how close I am finally. 

The other milestone is the drafting of a novel synopsis and query letter.  No, I don't know whom I'm querying yet.  Well--okay, I do, but I'm not telling.  Just as I didn't want to put the editor's name out there in case I hated her work, so too I don't want to give this any potential of becoming a "rag-on-agents" blog.  Those do exist, and some are scary.  In any event, I wrote a generic query letter, since most agents expect a fairly standard format: a) business heading, b) "hook", c) brief synopsis, d) writer bio, and e) closing.  I left the agent stuff general and wrote the rest, and sent it to Debra for a lookie. 

The synopsis was hard.  I did what I thought was a good job, and then I lifted it right into my query letter, and then I realized it was too short and non-story-based for a synopsis.  The revision took a while.  It's unbelievably challenging, it turns out, to take a 300-page novel (almost literally, will be literally by the time I'm done) and shrink it into a couple of pages of text that make any sense whatsoever.  Book Two will be much easier to create a synopsis for, I think, since it's a fairly linear plot, but this book is rambling and epic and grand and--tough to shrink. 

I did it, though, and now they're both on their way to Debra for comment.  Hopefully by the time we get this worked out I'll be done with the revision, and I may even be querying agents next week.  Wouldn't that be grand?

Word count:  87,949
Page count: 295

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Word and page count update

As Debra was saying, the edited manuscript was scant of a full book, and I'd left out a lot of the interesting story. 

Tonight I finished the "Here, kitty kitty" chapter and the aftermath chapter.  It seems a good time to stop and count words, since it's at a bit of a neutral position.

Cataclysm v4, the version sent to the editor: 247 pages, 76,012 words.

Cataclysm v5, current version: 285 pages, 84,680 words.

Difference: 38 more pages, 8,668 more words.

Addition: 11.4% increased word count.

That's a lot.  What's left to go?  I still need to add the scene showing Crystal helping people deal with post-cataclysmic losses.  I still need to beef up the library scene a little to make sure people know how they survived.  I still need to beef up the Olympus scene to get to know the relationship between the deities more.  I still need to beef up the final battle to--well, beef it up.  I have some really cool ideas for it, but you'll have to wait.  I also still have to add more magic training scenes. 

That's a lot left to do.  On the other hand, I've already done quite a lot, and it's not quite 1/3 of the way through August.  Whew. 

Time to go to bed.  G'night, all!

Reading aloud

A writer, I believe, should always read his work aloud.

Trust me, that's not really as self-evident as it sounds, having now been through the process from start to--well, nearly finish.  Writing is, after all, a solitary and, except for the motivational music that many writers utilize in the background, a quiet pursuit.  Yes, some good people write screen plays and stage plays that are meant to be read aloud, but I'm not limiting my suggestion to those folks.  All writers should read their work aloud before passing it off as complete.

Part of the reason I perform that ritual is, honestly, anchored in narcissism.  It feels good to hear words that I craftily placed in a specific order uttered out loud as though they matter, even when the voice doing the uttering is my own.  It's a silly thing, but why else am I writing?  It's not for the money.  Yes, some authors--a very few--make serious bank on their writing skills.  I'm hoping to be one of them.  Still, hoping is one thing, but expecting that type of success would just be silly.  My editor and others have suggested that the book is, or at least will be, very salable once I'm done with revisions, and for that I'm glad, but I'm also only reasonably looking at a $6,000 - $10,000 payday expectation.  I know, that sounds like a large amount.  However, if you deduct what I've paid for professional editing, as well as the costs I'll end up sinking in manuscript transportation, you'll end up with a significantly smaller sum.  Then, if you take the amount I make on a rough hourly basis in my day job, and multiply it by the number of hours I've invested in this project, you'll see why even the higher number represents an insultingly small compensation.  Ah, well.  As I said, it's not for the money.

There are a couple more practical reasons for reading your work aloud, of course.  One is that you read differently when your mouth is trying to form the words at the same time.  I don't know why.  I presume that somewhere in the psychology or education literature there's a study done on what happens when you read mentally, to yourself, versus reading to speak the words, but I don't care enough to go find it.  Whatever the literature says, I'm much more likely to find errors in the text when I'm reading aloud.  I think it has something to do with the brain's ability to compensate for syntax when I'm blazing across the printed word.  Last night, for example, I excitedly printed off the nine perfect pages of the newest chapter ("Here, Kitty Kitty!") and ran in to the other room where my family was, looking forward to the joy not only of listening to my own work but also of having them heap me with praise--or the other stuff, depending on which it deserved.  I started reading, and didn't get half of the first page out before I came across an error I hadn't seen.  I'd used a singular noun where a plural was needed.  I'd gone over it several times at the keyboard and hadn't caught the error.  One verbal read through, though, and gotcha! 

The other reason to read aloud, I think, is because a well-constructed bit of prose sounds--well, good.  Well-constructed, as it were. It's especially true for combat sequences.  When you've written a good battle scene, you can pass your eyes over it dozens of times without really hearing the rhythm of the linguistic dance that the words take on.  When you read it aloud, though, it's clear when you have a winner.  The piece becomes more than just a collection of words.  The sentences and paragraphs seem to leap into life. 

And it only happens when you read it aloud, I've found. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Strange dichotomy

I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote last night, hoping to complete a scene that I think is going to be absolutely awesome once I'm done.  It's the "Here, kitty kitty" scene; it got added in draft 2 to heighten the tension a bit by having Aphrodite lead the kids into danger, but Debra pointed out that it didn't heighten the tension enough.  Now, I'm injecting the prose version of steroids.  The kids--Matt and Crystal's thirteen-year-old twin daughters, to be specific--are, as of my departure for work this morning, cowering terrified behind a flimsy wooden desk that's all that is protecting them from the grand melee and rapid-fire spell-chucking going on in the war room.  Their hair's already been singed, and one got blood spattered on her face.  It's delicious with a capital D.  Only problem is how long it's taking me to craft.

I woke up this morning having gotten them successfully and quite sneakily to the war room in the first place (in the first draft of the scene, Aphrodite leads them happily down thataway, but that seemed too preposterous for the girls to believe).  Three cups of coffee went into fueling my pre-shower writing, then, as I ploshed along through the scene rewrite. 

Battle scenes are fun to write, by the way.  They're vivid.  They're energetic.  They have a pace and a heartbeat of their own.  All that leads to the fact that you really can't stop in the middle when you're writing one.  It was a weird bout of strangeness this morning, a dichotomy I couldn't help but feel at my core, when I went from writing a combat scene of grand melee to sitting at my Dean's desk, surrounded by papers and folders rather than claymores and flails.  It's not something you can just wash out of your head, this vivid visualization you have when you write about battle. 

It's lunchtime now, in fact, and I'm just now getting into the rhythm of my work day.  Speaking of which, there's real-life work still to be done, so this blog entry must remain short.  Have a great day! 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Measuring progress

This is the strangest project I've ever had to manage.  That's saying a lot, too; I've managed all sorts of projects before.  I've built "tank buster" lanes in the military, overseen the construction of roads and even a wolf den for the zoo, installed and improved major and minor computer and telephone networks, and launched academic programs.  I've even managed writing projects, from the 50-page response to the three comprehensive examination questions in my Ph.D. program to 300-600 page self studies to a 2,400-page response to the response to a self study.  You know what?  It's all measurable.  When you build a road, there is a certain order of steps that has to happen, and you can estimate how long each will take and then manage to the milestones plan you create as a result.  When you write a self-study, yes, it's writing, but it's not creative writing in the slightest.  To lay the project out, you determine how many questions and sub-questions you'll have to answer, give extra weight to the longer ones, and divvy them out appropriately.  You can track progress on an Excel spreadsheet or a Gantt chart, or whatever.  It's measurable, predictable, and to a great extent, controllable.

This isn't any of the three.

Writing the book was.  I was able to set a minimum number of words and a word goal, and with an ultimate word count threshold in mind I was then given to calculate the total amount of time it should take me to write the novel.  Everyone following the blog got to watch the project take shape, too, because as an accountability measure I included the word count at the bottom of each blog entry, and I tried to blog about something interesting every single day if for no other reason than to require myself to publish how much progress I'd achieved. 

Now, hell.  It's a jumble.  I'm halfway through making the red-line revisions, and I could be completely done with those if I weren't taking a certain amount of time to stop and rework some of the prose.  Some--most, in fact--of the rewriting I'm doing along the way is prompted by Debra's comments, but not all is.  Directly, anyway.  For example, Debra wanted a bit more of a hook in to the trip to Atlantis, and I made one today.  I'm pretty proud of my idea, in fact.  Meanwhile, there are other parts of the rewrite that I'm sailing right by, setting those red-lined pages to the side for later.  The scene where Callie gets the kids in trouble, for example, is on the list for a complete rewrite, to be done once I'm mentally ready. 

If it's just word count, I suppose I'm doing fine.  Over the past week, including two weekends, since I received the manuscript back, I've added nearly 8,000 words to the story length.  That's a 10% increase, which sounds awesome if you think of it that way.  Keep in mind, though, that I've been known to write 10,000 words on a weekend day when I sit down and really work at it.  For the sake of comparison, I spent nearly all day yesterday working at it, and only added about 3K to the count.  I don't feel bad about the lower word count per day; even 3K is pretty good considering I'm going page by page removing and cleaning as well as adding. 

What I do feel bad about is the lack of predictability and control this work offers.  It took me all last weekend and most of the week just to get in to the first few words of the original manuscript.  That was because first I wrote a prologue and a stronger beginning of the first scene, and then I revised them, and then I revised them again.  I have to say that I'm really quite pleased with the new beginning of the story, and Heide applauded the work I've done, but--it sure was slow going. 

Yes, I want it done now.  Can't help it. 

So, for lack of any better control mechanism, I have to just put the blog down, turn back to the manuscript, and keep on chugging.  I still have a couple of hours to write tonight, and so write I shall. 

Good night!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Who plays whom?

One of my guiltier pleasures in regards to the book writing efforts--aside from imagining how I'm going to spend the millions of dollars I'll make because of its publication, of course--has been casting the movie that will be made out of it.  That's a practice my entire family has been involved with, in fact.  Some day I hope to be famous enough to be able to ask other writers if they engage in the same speculative practice without fear of being laughed out of the room. 

They must, yes?

It only sounds narcissistic.  It's actually a fun activity, putting real actors into imaginary roles.  It's also useful in helping to visualize the characters, to breathe a little bit more life into them.  Debra advised me to take a drive with my characters in order to talk to them and get to know them.  This is the aspect of writing--the personalization of the characters--that makes stories capture our hearts and our minds and our spleens. Well, maybe not that last, but still....

Anyway, what male writer wouldn't prefer to take a drive to get to know Angelina Jolie rather than a mental sketch of a book character?

Yeah, she was the hands-down uncontested winner for the role of Aphrodite.  The goddess of love in Cataclysm has to be omigod sexy to the point where men want to rip their shirts off and women want to either destroy the movie screen or join the men in forcibly disrobing.  At the same time, there has to be a depth to her character.  She's kookoo for cocoa puffs, to be sure, but it's over a god.  Besides, she's been around for a long, long time.  Thus, the role of Aphrodite has to be filled by someone who can do stop-your-breath sexy and delightfully evil at the same time while carrying along some slick personality.  Oh, and auburn hair.  Ten or fifteen years ago there would've been a few names I would've put forth, including/especially Sharon Stone (who is, incidentally, playing Aphrodite in the upcoming book-to-movie Gods Behaving Badly, which is kinda sorta not really at all like my book).  Now, though, I only think of one person: Angelina. 

The other half of the famous celebricouple, Brad Pitt, came up when discussing Matt's actor.  I like Brad Pitt.  A lot of people like Brad Pitt, as a matter of fact.  He's a solid action actor with a nice depth of character to him.  Thing is, I see him as a great action guy, but not as a Greek god sort of guy.  He's great in shoot 'em, run fast, drive fast kinds of roles, but...Greek God of War?  His portrayal of Achilles in Troy was close, but didn't sell me; frankly, I thought he was miscast in that role.  I fear that seeing him as Mars would give me much the same reaction I had when watching the movie Thor: yeah, nice abs, but you're a god?  Really? 

I suppose, though, that you can't ask the question of who should play your Greek/Roman/Norse/Egyptian/Californian god to a household of women without getting a lot of feedback.  Tom Cruise was another name tossed my way, but he's in the same category as Brad.  Worse, I don't see Tom Cruise as even having a sense of humor to speak of, while Matt's subtle humor shows itself several times in the book.  Heide suggested Antonio Banderas with a swoon in her voice, but Latin Lover as Greek God?  Not even I could be that irreverent.  I mean, yeah, I recognize that we're talking about the same geographical region when we talk of Roman stuff and Latin stuff, but you get two very different male aspects out of the archetypes.  No, no, no.

There were three candidates, then, that made it to the "Hmm, interesting idea" stage of Matt's Imaginary Casting.  Before the reveal, though, I have to make mention of the Avatar of God himself, Sir Sean Connery.  Yes, he's great, and yes, twenty or thirty years ago I'd strongly suggest him.  But let the man have the graceful retirement he deserves.  A tip o'th' hat, then, to Sir Sean, along with a grand sigh that he's not a candidate for this one.

Ashton Kutcher was a top candidate.  He's a fine actor, and he brings a ton of humor to the table.  I'm not not sure I could see the guy who played Kelso on That 70's Show as the god of war.  Kutcher's characters tend to be lovable goofballs, which is one occasional aspect of Matt's personality--but not the whole of it by any means.  I don't think, then, that Kutcher's right for the role. 

Both of the women picked as their choice: Vin Diesel.  I like him, too.  He's got the gritty, manly, stick-a-sword-in-your-face side, and he's got a loving, caring, cuddle-bunny side as well.  He clearly is in touch with all aspects of his manhood, and his characters show that depth.  Also, I've enjoyed the sense of humor he brings, and a sense of humor is, as I've said before, a key aspect of Matt's character.  The god of war in my book has to be able to slice the head off of a troll, hug his wife tenderly, and crack a joke about the dichotomy of the situation all at the same time.  Vin Diesel could do that, I think. 

My problem is that I see Vin Diesel more as Thor in my book than as Matt.  Many people see the god of war as someone who goes out and revels in any battle available at the moment, and starts one if there isn't one readily available.  But as you read through the book you will hopefully see a different god of war.  Different as in Nicolas Cage, that is.  His role of Balthazar in the Sorcerer's Apprentice was pretty much spot on with what I've envisioned as Matt: powerful, yet caring, and a wisecracking smartass to boot.  National Treasure showed a very similar personality profile in a different setting, and I loved that movie mostly because of the personality.  I hated City of Angels, which I think was a universal sentiment, but a major source of my hatred was the depth to which Cage played Seth's character.  He took an angel doing something really stupid and selfish and made us all love him. 

So yeah, I'm pretty sure that if I'm ever given a say in who plays Matt in the grand movie experience, I'm going to ask for Nicolas Cage.  It's still a fantasy at this point, but the whole book project is fantasy, so why not? 

Meanwhile, I'm also pretty sure that I'm out of bytes for today.  Thus, I'll have to leave off discussion of who might some day play the lead character, Crystal, for a later blog.  Time to get to the actual work of writing!

Have a great day!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Here, kitty kitty....

Part of Debra Ginsberg's editorial service is a telephone conference after the writer has received and had a chance to digest the editorial report, and last night was mine.  I don't know if other editors do the same; I'm not sure they can be entirely effective if they don't.  The English language is, at best, an imperfect means of communicating ideas from one person to another, and despite the clarity of phrase her report maintained, there were still parts of it where I crinkled my forehead and emitted an intellectual-sounding expression of confusion that sounded kinda like "Huh?"

It was a good call.  I have a complex book--hard to imagine 80K words not comprising something a bit complex.  There were things she didn't know, couldn't know, about the story and about what I have planned for future novels.  There are, after all, a few levels of omniscience working.  Matt, certainly, is a god, and has been around for hundreds of millions of years, so he knows a whole lot of a lot.  Gods in my world aren't omniscient, though.  It's simple, really; you can't have omniscient gods in a polytheistic system or else they'll be in each others' lanes the whole time.  Then there's the narrator, who isn't omniscient at all.  In fact, the story is normally told through Crystal's eyes, and she's really rather clueless.  Finally there's the omniscient writer, but if you go back through some of the blogs you'll note that I'm really not completely omniscient either.  I'm good at making crap up, and I survive as a writer by adding to that a fair level of omnipotence.  If I realize that there's a kitty in a scene, poof!  There's a kitty (dragons, after all, like kitties a great deal, especially with catsup). 

Bottom line for part of the call, though, was that she, a fairly high level reader, hadn't "gotten" some of the story that I'd intended to be there.  It's easy to point out where she'd missed the artifacts in the prose, making it her fault, but that wouldn't have been intellectually honest.  She missed it.  Readers miss stuff, in general.  Whose job is it to make sure readers "get" the important points?  Yeah, it's not the readers' job, is it?  Each time, then--and there were only a few--it was clear indication that I need to go back to that point and buff it out a little, make it sparkle out of the story so that the reader does, unfailingly, "get" it.

That conclusion isn't a natural one, now.  The natural one is what I mentioned at first: blame it on her.  But I did that with my beta readers.  One guy in particular brought up something about the timing of the cataclysm that he'd clearly missed in the text.  Silly man, he should read more closely, right?  Thus, I ignored the comment.  Had I fixed it then, I wouldn't have seen the same comment in the report I actually paid for.  Silly man, he should write more clearly, right? 

To clarify, probably eighty to ninety percent of the report was spot on and easy to understand.  Much of the call, meanwhile, centered around topics where she hadn't missed anything at all, but instead I needed further discourse either on her comment or on how best to fix it. 

In addition, we also discussed a couple of things that aren't working so much with the plot.  I like that she's an idea person.  For example: at one point, Aphrodite gets the kids into danger by leading them to a forbidden room.  What, are they stupid?  Granted, the word she used in the report was naive.  I mean, yeah, all kids are a little naive, but these aren't that much.  They're pretty bright kids.  But, Debra said, break out of the mindset, oh writer, and see things for what could be.  What if it were something else?  Maybe Aphrodite can lure them there some other way--gods can shape change, right?  Sure...ding!  Here, kitty kitty.  Matt wouldn't keep cats at the estate because dragons like to eat them and because the storyteller isn't a fan of felines, but the girls don't know that.  This will be good....

I left the call with a crystal-clear view of what I need to do to get this book published and on the market.  Now all I have to do is--well, the work.  There's a fair amount ahead of me, adding to several scenes and rewriting parts of others.  Still, it's exciting work, and I'm actually looking forward to doing more.

For now, though, it's time to head off to work.  My day job sort of work, that is.  Happy writing today!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fillory, Sweden, and the Breakout Novel

Back when I was reading simply for the fun of it, a time that admittedly was many years ago, I only read one book at a time.  I thought that more than one at a time couldn't be read, that I would be lost in the plots and characters if I swapped back and forth.  I even vaguely recall having an argument about it with a friend; her stance was that it was easy to read more than one book at a time, and mine was that it was not. 

My, what an opinionated snit I was at the time.  I hadn't even tried.

It stands to reason, in any event, that if you cannot read more than one at a time, you certainly cannot combine writing and reading.  Only, you can.  I've been doing it, and I enjoy doing it.  I've even gotten into multiple books, from multiple genres, at once, concurrently with my writing efforts. 

It's more than possible and interesting, in fact; it's beneficial.  One of the reasons I'm reading these days is to improve my writing.  Each book becomes a sort of real-life lab exercise.  My imagination flies along with the story, disbelief safely suspended, while my analytical mind watches for key aspects of storytelling.  Try it yourself, if you haven't; it really does work, and it's a much more interesting way to learn to write than sitting in a grand lecture hall.  No offense is intended, my fellow lecturers....

Add to the mix a book on writing, and you have even more to busy your analytical engine with while reading.  My latest effort in that regard is Writing the Breakout Novel by Maass.  He's got a very interesting and highly commercial approach to writing.  So far, he hasn't mentioned anything I haven't heard before, but that's not a bad thing.  I'm teaching a class this semester called College Mathematics to our nursing students.  It's called College Mathematics because the correct title for the class--Algebra--is a word that causes involuntary tremors and other panic attack symptoms to break out through entire flocks of allied health students.  In this class, I don't think I'll be presenting anything at all that the students haven't had presented to them before.  The key is going to be presenting the same material in a manner that is engaging, that the students can lock onto and walk away with understanding.  Same with books on writing, then.  I've read several times the importance of characterization, but this book has such a different way of approaching the topic that it's worth what I paid for it for that subject alone. 

I'm also reading The Magicians by Grossman.  Good book, that.  I know it's a repeat of the basic boy goes to school tale.  People who complain that it's just a new version of Harry Potter only have authority with me if they also complained that Harry Potter was just a new version of X-Men.  Big deal.  There are no new plots.  Haven't been for a great many years.  The key, as Maass puts it, is to use the same plot in a new way with solid conflict and good characterization.  Grossman, I think, did that, though I'm not far enough along in the book yet to render a real opinion on any of those.  Still, it's interesting to read a chapter from Maass in the morning while getting ready, and then hop in the car and have Grossman's book on the kid who wanted to live in Fillory read to me, listening specifically for how he did, or didn't do, what Maass said to. 

At the same time, I'm reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  Gosh, I wish the author of that book was still on the planet with us, writing more.  It's not even my genre, though "my genre" is admittedly tough to nail down for certain.  Still, it's a great book, set in Sweden, with traces of historical information running through it.  The main character--He Who Shall Remain Nameless ('cause I can't remember his name)--is set up immediately as somebody I really care about, despite his status as a journalist.  Then there's the protagonist, the girl who has a dragon tattoo, whom the author deftly sets up as a likable and respectable force in the book well before he reveals her background.  Had he done it the other direction, the respectability might not have been there.  It's really quite an expert touch, despite being his first novel. 

Lunch hour is over at my day job, though, so it's time to get back to work and quit wishing I were reading, or writing.  Have a great Monday!