Monday, January 31, 2011

Not bad for Monday

Got 1, 096 words written this morning, which is remarkable considering it's Monday.

You think you know what I'm talking about. You think, "Yeah, I hate Modays, going back to work after the weekend." I work the weekend, usually (though not this week) covering a Source story on Saturday, and copy editing Sunday night. Usually the copy editing shift takes me until about 2 a.m. Monday – sometimes a little earlier, sometimes a little later.

This time it was right about 2 exactly when I pushed away from the computer. Then, as usual, I was up at 6 a.m. – coffee to make, school lunches to pull together, Tori and Max to get moving and out the door.

So if I can function at all on Monday I think I'm pretty hot stuff.

What I wrote wasn't for Bones, which is really the only thing that counts. It was for the Island Time blog. But given that I was writing at all, that ain't bad. And now I'm a little rested – grabbed another couple of hours of sleep this morning – so we'll see if I've got anything left for the novel.

And of course, I've written another 237 words in this blog post, so that's something as well. Sometimes, if you can get your fingers moving and keep 'em moving for any sustained effort, that's as good as you can hope for.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Someone Smarter than Me

I know, that's practically everyone. But here's a thought on first drafts from someone smarter than me.

Don't get it right, just get it written. James Thurber

Print that out and tape it up over your computer monitor.

BTW: Thurber's The Years With Ross would be on my list of my five favorite books, if I had such a list.

Update: 1,059 words today, all in Bones.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Good Day, Now a (Sigh) Shopping Trip

Thursday actually went better than I thought it would. Wrote about 800 words for The Curacao Caper, the Festering Boil pirate story I'm writing with Mark. It's almost finished (that was Chapter 45,) but this one has been not nearly as fun as the previous four, and has now been more than two years in the making, Although in many ways it's by far better than its four predecessors.

Also some 800 words for three stories for the Source. And that's on top of actually going to the luncheon meeting to hear the tax assessor talk about the territory's property tax system. And yes, it was every bit as exciting as a talk about the property tax system can be. Plus the usual running around, dropping kids off and picking them up and running errands.

Glad it's Friday. Although I've half promised to drive Millie to several thrift stores. Oh, there's some fun! A thrift store shopping trip! She much rather would have gone with her mother, who enjoys shopping – I'm told I have a tendency to sigh audibly while waiting around in clothing stores although I'm really not aware of it – but Tori works late today, and Millie works both days this weekend, so there ya go. I'm elected.

Still, I've got a little time to myself this morning, so it's time to get back to work on Bones.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Catching up and daydreaming

Wrote quite a bit yesterday, but it was all for work, stories in the Source. So that doesn't count. I've got a couple of hours this morning before I have to dash out for another meeting to cover, so I'll see what I can do.

Hey! Gotta pay the bills, right? My creditors certainly seem to think so. And until some publisher decides to make me richer than Croesus (how's that for an old school reference?) this is how I do it. (And Tori teaches, of course, and deserves every penny she gets for it, plus several more.)

I have said many times but it bears repeating – I am not a greedy man. When the publisher comes by the house with the suitcase full of money, I'll happily accept mostly twenties, as long as it's a big suitcase. But I don't insist that all the bills bear Wiliam McKinley's likeness, although one or two wouldn't hurt. And I've alwas loved the fact that Salmon P. Chase's face adorns the $10,000 bill.

But no! Stop! I'm not greedy. A (good-sized) suitcase of twenties will be more than sufficient for my modest needs.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My secret weapon

I don't see how anyone writing a novel for the young adult or middle school audience can hope to achieve anything without a bunch of kids to read it to.

That's my secret weapon. My wife Tori teaches fifth grade at the Good Hope School, and at least once a week, sometimes two, I bring the latest chapter to class and read it to them.

Their enthusiasm is (or at least so far, has been) bracing. No matter how glum I happen to be feeling about my progress, they are so into it that it drives me. And of course, I don't want to disappoint the kids, so that keeps me on task. Gotta have a new chapter ready by Tuesday!

And sometimes, they point me in the right direction. Their praise is great, but even better, they're not afraid to tell me when something isn't working for them. They're not afraid to say, "That was a little boring," (one of them actually said that once, bless her) or "I didn't understand that." And then I know I have work to do and an idea of what that work is.

It also was tremendously helpful on the second draft. Last year I read them The Wreck of the Gladys B. as it progressed. And their comments and discussions helped me see exactly the kind of work I needed to do in the rewrite. So much so that midway I was able to write the new chapters as if I'd already made those corrections in the earlier part of the story. I would tell them, "I'm going to go back and change this or that," so the next material would make sense to them. And when it came time to do the second draft, I already knew what I had to do. It was much easier than the second draft of Chance.

When I finish reading the day's chapter, they always go, "Aawwww!" I like to think it's because they really like the story, although maybe it's just that the story is better than a math test. Some days that's good enough. Last year, when I finished Gladys, they applauded. Don't think THAT felt great?

And they have become very possessive about the story. I ran into three of the kids, now in the sixth grade, after school yesterday. They wanted to know if had been published yet, and then demanded to know why not, as if it was my fault. (Maybe it is.) I tried to explain how the system works, but they wanted none of that. They want the book, on the shelves, and they want it NOW.

This violates one of "the rules," the one that says you "write the first draft with the door closed." Write what's in your heart, then fix it up, THEN show the world and let them fall all over themselves praising your brilliance.

Maybe that's good advice. All I know is, reading it to the kids sure worked for me. Gladys went much more easily than my first novel, Chance. I'm sure in part that was because I had been through it once with Chance, and knew I could actually do it. But having the input of those kids as I went along was priceless.

It goes without saying, if you're going to write in a genre – mystery, thriller, romance, teenage vampire love story – you ought to read a few, familiarize yourself with what's out there, what's selling. How can you write a YA adventure if you haven't read one since you were 17? This just takes it one step further – I'm familiarizing myself with the genre and the audience, and letting them help tell me if the story is working.

For their part, they get to see what the creative process is like. We talk about some of the choices I've made or coming up. They get to see how a novel is written. A couple of them have started writing their own. To me, that is the best part of all this, and I can't wait to see what they come up with!

The Wreck of the Gladys B. is kid tested. You can tell me there are problems. You can tell me a character doesn't work or the plot has holes. You can tell me I can't write. But you can not tell me kids won't like it. I'm sending it out to agents with the confidence that kids will, because I already know they do.

And of course, they'll all be named in the acknowledgments.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

One Last Thought

Spent a good deal of the weekend kvetching over "What's wrong with Bones?" but I'm putting that behind me. Because the biggest mistake i can make at this point is to go back and try to "fix" it.

Turn off the inner critics and just write. Get to the end. Then I'll be able to see what the problem is, but until I finish, I can't really know what the story is, and can't know how to make it better.

The lure of perfection can be so seductive. You feel like you can't go on until what you've already got is "perfect," whatever that means. So you rework that first chapter, first page, first paragraph, first sentence, first word until it shines like a diamond. But you'll never get past it, because it can always be fiddled with until the changes aren't neessarily better, just different, and you've completely lost your perspective.

Just plunge ahead. Bones might be something of a mess – and it's not bad, I have to say, there's just this feeling that it's not quite right. But it's my mess, and I won't know for sure how to fix it until I get to the end and see what the story is.

(1,052 words today.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Writer's Greatest Gift

I'm struggling a bit with The Bones in the Closet. It's okay, I like the characters and general situation (three siblings and a computer nerd friend + dog on a secret road trip to break a family curse) but - well, like I said, I'm struggling a bit.

I find myself worrying about it, especially when I sit down at the computer and nothing comes. But then I remember one of the most important things about writing, and I start breathing again.

Writers get a gift. They get the luxury of writing a shitty first draft.

I don't know why, but some people think writing should be easy. It's not like it's work, is it? It's not like you're digging a ditch or selling insurance. It's just writing.

Well, sometimes it's hard bloody work, and nobody writes a good first draft. And that's okay, because no one but the writer will ever see it. That's not me talking. That's every writer I've ever heard talk about writing. In his outstanding On Writing, Stephen King talks about writing the first draft, then sticking it in a drawer and forgetting about it for a month. Then he picks it up and reads it to find out what he's been up to. Sometimes you don't know what the book is about until then, and with a little luck and a lot of humility, you see what you have to do to fix it.

As writer Anne Lamott says, you can't fix it until you've written something to fix. If you expect to dash off a first draft, send it off to a publisher and have them fall all over themselves to make you rich, well that's a nice fantasy. But it doesn't work that way. The first draft, Lamott says in her outstanding book, Bird by Bird, is "the down draft." You get it written down. The second is "the up draft." That's when you fix it up. And the third is "the dental draft." That's when you check it, tooth by tooth, to make sure everything is healthy, that it all works.

But even knowing that, you still worry all the way through the first draft. "Have I lost it?" "Am I completely wrong about this story?" "Is it too late to find a career as a paralegal?"

I do have a secret weapon that has proven enormously helpful in combatting the worries. Not, it's not rum, although that can be very nice too. But it still doesn't change the facts – the first draft will not be good enough. It will be shitty. I don't care who you are or what you're writing. Romance. History. Mystery. Adventure. A kids book. (Those are actually much harder. There are so few words, every single one has to count. But that's a different rant for a different day.)

I do have characters and a general story I like, so at this stage I'm actually way ahead of the game! But I will worry about it until I finish the third (or more) draft and realize, "Hey! The Bones In the Closet is damn good! This has a chance!"

And then 'll start another one, and I'll worry all over again.

But at least I'll still have my secret weapon. Which I'll write about next time.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

That's better

So I knocked out another 900 words yesterday afternoon and am feeling much better about my productivity. They were for a different story – The Curacao Caper, which I'm writing with Mark – not Bones, but at least my fingers were kept busy on the keyboard.

Sometimes that's enough.

I'd discuss the whole concept of setting yourself a word quota, but that'll have to wait for another time. Right now I've got an errand that MUST be run this morning. When I get back in an hour (or less, I hope) I'll dive back into Bones, where I am beginning to see my way through again.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

That's something, I suppose

574 words in the last couple of hours this morning. That's something, although far from my goal of 1,000 words a day. Still, I've got the afternoon, once I get Millie to work, assuming I can get back on the computer. Once Kate gets up she gets very possessive.

No momentum. Fiddlng, hemming and hawing. A load of written throat-clearing. But it'll get better. Tomorrow shold flow better, and then the day after. Assuming I can just sit and write.

Excuses, Excuses

Have not written one word on "Bones" in four days. It's been one of those periods where I never got the chance to sit down and just write.

Realized sometime yesterday that I had spent more time – a lot more time – behind the wheel of the car than I had at the computer. Errands, shopping, taking people places, going out to cover stories for the Source (plus the time to write those stories, the only writing I've accomplished in days.) It piles up.

I've got a couple of hours this morning before I have to take Millie to work (40 minutes or so, round trip) and a little time this afternoon. Let's see if I can make use of them.

You lose momentum. A couple of days of good hard writing and suddenly it starts flying. But now it almost feels like starting over.

Well, here we go again.

I did correspond with Mark and in the back and forth we've finally figured out the end of "The Curacao Caper." Now all we have to do is write it. Perhaps I'll use this afternoon to get started on that. But right now, "Bones."

**Book note - Re-reading "Master and Commander." What is this the fourth time? The fifth? At least. It's inspiring, but also daunting. I'll never be Patrick O'Brian. I'll just have to be John Baur, and make sure that's good enough.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Two Good Ones I've Read Recently

Two books I've read recently that deserve comment here.

"West with the Night" by Beryl Markham is one of the best books I've read in years The writing is amazing, and the stories are fantastic. It's the story of her life, growing up in Africa during the early years of the 20th century. What a fantastic life, what a great series of adventures she had!

There's the parrot's moment of greatest triumph followed instantly by his greatest embarrassment. Getting mauled by a lion as a young girl. The boar hunt with the local warriors, in which her beloved dog Buller almost gave his all. And those are just her earliest years. At 17 she became a horse trainer, leading to a successful racing career (and the story of the race between her Wise Child and Wrack is as good as the match race chapter in "Seabiscuit.") Then she saw an airplane and her life changed. She became one of the first women pilots in the world, and her decriptions of flying are poetic, brilliant, and prescient. She captures a glimpse of an Africa that no longer exists. Her description of using an airplane to scout elephant herds for hunting parties is fascinating. She doesn't approve, and she seems to understand the wildlife better than she does most people.

Ernest Hemingay, who knew her, praised her book as better than anything he'd ever written, so it sure doesn't need my praise. If you haven't read "West with the Night," get it. Read it. Great book.

Then there's Christopher Moore's "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal." The only previous book of Moore's I've read, "The Stupidest Angel," is one of the funniest books I've ever read. I was surprised "Lamb" wasn't more straight out funny. It has laugh-out-loud moments, but it really is more of a straightforward story, making up a whole history of Jesus (called Joshua in the book) that fills in the huge blank spot in Christ's biography. It's irreverent – to say the very least. Others might call it sacreligious or even blasphemous. But it's also sort of compelling, and creates a character that is both more full-blooded and more satisfying than the plaster saint we're used to thinking of.

Of course it's tragic. We all know the story, and seeing it through the eyes of someone who loves the character of Joshua as a brother, as a lifelong friend, is more painful than the more remote Gospel stories. There's also a fair amount of sex – calm down, not by Josh, but Biff has an active sex life which he feels obligated to describe to his pal. I'd say there's probably more sex in the book than any previous story of Christ.

But in the end it manages to be surprisingly respectful and – yes, more even religious – than you'd expect.

(But if you want straight, sreaming funny, "The Stupidest Angel" is a sure bet. Save it for next Christmas season. Mixes the Yuletide Spirit, Santa, Zombies and one of the great dogs in literature. Hilarious.)

Anyway thats a couple of books I've read in the last few weeks.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writing Isn't the Hard Part

When Mark and I self-published "Well Blow Me Down" seven years ago, the hardest part wasn't writing it, or even editing it (editing your own work is hard.) The hardest part was selling it. Compared to the selling, the writing part is easy.

But of course you never get paid for writing. You get paid for selling what you wrote.

You'd go from bookstore to bookstore, get told "no thanks" five times in a row, and have to put on the same smile and same air of bravado for the sixth store of the afternoon. And eventually we did sell enough to have justified the venture, so that was a good thing. But hard.

Well, it's the same for trying to sell to an agent – with one exception. Bookstores have a front door. You can just walk in and ask for the manager. Agents control the how, when and what of the relationship. Some want you to send it by snail mail. Some want it by e-mail. Some want the pitch and three chapters, or 50 pages.

Or 10. Seriously, there are agents out there who will decide whether a book is worth their time after reading only 10 pages.

I got another "no thanks" last night from an agent who didn't want to represent "Gladys." They always couch it in terms that suggest it's somehow their failing, but you know what they mean. The latest said, "Unfortunately, after careful consideration I regret that I am not the right agent for your work at this time."As if she had no choice.

Every author believes in his or her book. You have to. You couldn't have written it if you didn't think it was a good story. So I know I'm biased. But it is actually pretty good, and that's not just me talking. I have a "secret weapon" that tells me young readers will get caught up in it. I'll explain that another day.

Also, agents are (or ought to be) in the business to make money. It can't be a matter of doing it for fun or out of charity. And if I've got even a decent book with the kind of exposure I can get through Talk Like a Pirate Day and our Web site, with millions of hits every year, you'd think they'd see some potential. Even if they didn't "connect" with it, you'd think they'd see, "The guy writes okay, and we could potentially sell quite a few books." But apparently not.

It only takes one, and that one is out there. But damn! Finding him or her is taking too damn long.

And now, I paste the smile back on my face, pull on my air of bravado, and push on.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thursday Bones

Worked on "The Bones n the Closet" today. That's the first draft project. "Gladys" is done – or as done as a novel that hasn't sold yet can be. The tweaking I did before was actually instead of what I was supposed to be doing. "Bones" is the one I'm working through the first draft on. It's been problematic at times, but today went very well. I felt like I crossed some sort of barrier.

1,402 words. In a little more than an hour. That ain't bad.

Very tired and think I've earned a nap. Haven't gotten more than 5 hours of sleep a night in five days, at least.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Holding pattern

Not a lot of writing today. Had two stories for the Source that between them totalled about a thousand words, so there's that. 1,000 words a day is my absolute minimum. Sometimes I do more (once I did almost 6,000. That was a day! I'l tell you about it another time.) but never less than 1,000.

So I got my quota in, but that's all. Nothing on "The Bones in the Closet," the No. 1 project on my plate right now.

When I wasn't writing those two stories for the Source, I was mostly driving to and from those, and man, what traffic! It felt like every car on the island was on the road, and most of them were right in front of me!

Finished the rewrite on "Gladys" yesterday and have been sending out more queries.

Tomorrow I'll be covering Jouvert (part of the Crucian Christmas Festival- loudest thing ever!) so don't know how much I'll be able to work on Bones.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Somebody said something to the effect that novels aren't ever finished. They're eventually shipped off to publishers, but the writer is never finished fiddling with them until the last possible second, and sometimes not even then.

I spent the last couple of days tweaking "Gladys," which I thought I was finished with six months ago. "The Wreck of the Gladys B. is a young adult novel, an adventure of a girl in 1718 who runs away to sea to find her father and rescue him from pirates who've captured him.

It hasn't sold yet (more on that another time, when I feel like whining) and Tori and I were talking about it the other day – Thursday, to be precise – and she convinced me I needed to raise the ante a little more. Not a lot, I'm not rewriting the whole thing. Just added bits here and there to the opening three chapters to make the situation more dire.

This is in accord with the "hero journey" outline, which requires the novice hero to resist the call and finally be forced to leave.

Tori was right, as always. Rereading it, I saw what it needed right away. It was a fairly easy fix. But it was the kind of work where you can't do a word count, so I don't have one. What I have is a better story.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Starting out

For several years now I have kept a writing log. I hesitate to use the word journal – too trendy for my old-fashioned tastes. A log.

Most days after I've finished my writing for the day I try to take a few minutes to jot a few thoughts down about what I'm doing, what's working and what's not, how many words I managed that day. And yes, okay, sometimes it's about what I did instead of the writing I was supposed to do that day.

It just feels like a "writerly" thing to do, it keeps me focused and on track. I also make notes about what I'm reading from time to time, 'cuz I read a lot. Our whole family does.

I have just about filled the last notebook I bought at Office Max for the log and was about to go down to pick up a new one, when it hit me: Write it as a blog.

I don't for a minute think I have anything groundbreaking or profound to say about writing, or even anything particularly interesting to say about my writing. Just random notes and thoughts and ideas. But I do it anyway, and since putting it online doesn't cost me anything and I will at least have saved about ten bucks (roughly the cost of the notebooks I use) and a trip across island to the Sunny Isle Shopping Center. It's all kinds of win for me.

And who knows? Maybe someone else actually will be interested enough to read it, maybe something I'm thinking of or going through here will strike someone somewhere else. Maybe they'll have an idea I can use to get out of my problem, or – dare I think it? – it will get them writing. (I can hear them now. "Jeez! If this schmeggegy thinks he can write a novel, why don't I give it a shot?" And seriously, if that's what it takes to get you writing, I'm cool with that.) Or maybe it will interest people enough that when I finish a book, they'll actually want to read it.

It could happen.

So that's what this blog is. My notes about the day's work. If anyone cares to follow along, be my guest. And if you don't, that's fine too. I'll be doing it either way, and this way with an extra few bucks in my pocket.