Monthly Archives: October 2008

Fall Sunday Stats (on Monday!) #4: John McCain, You’re No TR

Before I get into the usual Sunday Stats, I’d like to say, Happy 150th Birthday, Theodore Roosevelt! I’ve been a fan of TR’s for years, and I’d like to say to John McCain that I’ve read a lot about Theodore Roosevelt,

and I feel qualified to say, Senator McCain, you’re no Theodore Roosevelt.  And if you don’t believe me, ask him yourself.

In other news, Mrs. Unfocused has made an herculean effort and gotten all of the kids’ baby and toddler clothes out of the study (and out of the house), and rearranged the furniture remaining so that the study is a place I can work at home, and write, without piles of stuff teetering over my head.  That would have been enough for me to feel like it’s Christmas in October, but on top of all that, she found me the perfect desk chair on Craigslist at a ridiculously cheap price:

Sure, it’s used and a little scratched, but some failed start-up’s loss is my tuchus’s gain, which is about the only good thing anyone can say about the economy these days.  I’m still listening to Planet Money every day; I keep waiting for Adam Davidson or Laura Conoway to annouce the very special “Everything’s Okay!” episode, but instead, we have today’s topic, on how things are even worse in poorer countries.  This does not help my mental state.

Miles run today: 10.16 miles in 1:21:54, an average pace of 8:04 minutes/mile, which is great.  It was a beautiful fall day, and my various joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles, which have been very aware of the implacable approach of my fortieth birthday, were relatively uncomplaining.  I beat the Mrs. and kids home, which is always a bonus because I don’t have to feel guilty about holding up the day while I stretch.  And I need a lot more stretching than I used to have to do.

What was I listening to on my iPod during my run: Pheddipidations # 158 (“Running the Bay State Marathon”) and Escapepod # 178 (“Unlikely”).  Escapepod, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a free science fiction podcast, which audio-publishes new and previously published short stories.  In episode 178, the host, Steve Eley, introduced me to the music of Jonathan Coulton.  After listening to a few songs on Coulton’s website, I bought one of his albums (Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow), which I would classify as geek rock (Cory Doctorow used a line from one of the songs as the title of a recent short story, and if that isn’t geek cred, I don’t know what is).  Coulton’s a heck of a songwriter, and he makes plenty of his music available for free on his website so you know what you’re buying.

Words written last week: 2,493 words of a new short story.  I’m maybe 2/3 done with the first draft, and when that one’s done, I’ve got one more teed up in the Idea folder before I go back to Meet the Larssons, refreshed and ready to rewrite.

In another news, TTB was rejected for the fifth time this week.  The rejection was short but personal and somewhat encouraging, which was a nice change, but still a rejection.  At this point, I think I’m going to leave it alone for a few months, then take another look at it with an eye to revise it to make it, y’know, better; if I could cut it down to under ten thousand words, that would open up additional markets as well.  In any event, I’m going to let it age for a while, and hope that it’s more like wine than an overripe cheese.

Final political note: I took Unfocused Girl and Junior out for a walk the other night to look at the Halloween decorations on the next block.  As we got to the corner of our block, Junior looked at the house there and asked his older sister, “Is that where John McCain lives?”

Because, you see, I had told him that John McCain reminded me of the cranky old man who lived on the corner of my block when I was a boy.  Last week, Junior had gotten confused and thought that McCain himself had lived on my block.  Now he’s taken that one step further, and decided McCain lives on the corner of his block.

There goes the neighborhood.


Fall Sunday Stats #3: Going Through Withdrawal.

It’s a beautiful fall day in Chicago.  The kids are playing with their friend from up the street, and the Mrs. and I are about to put up some Halloween decorations.

Overheard from the kids:

Junior:  “This is Mommy’s Rubik’s cube.”

Boy from up the street:  “What do you do with a Rubik’s cube?”

Junior:  “You try to get it right.”

Boy from up the street:  “How do you get it right?”

Junior:  “…”

Miles run today: 8.58 miles, in 1:17:10.  That’s a 9:00 minute/mile pace; the first half was at 9:21 and the second half was at 8:39.  Not as slow as my creepy crawly half marathon last weekend, but not fast.  I didn’t run at all during the week, again, in significant part because it took me so long to recover from last Sunday’s half marathon.  I learned my lesson, though, and kept today’s run relatively short, so that I won’t be in so much pain in the next few days.  My running has really gone to shit in the last few weeks, and I’d like to pick it back up before the weather really turns.  There’s maybe another month of crisp fall days, which are perfect for running; then I have to break out the serious winter running gear.  Today was ideal — around 50-55 degrees, sunny, and not too much wind.  I couldn’t ask for any better weather.  In any case, I’m done racing for the year now; I don’t have anything on the calendar until the Shamrock Shuffle next March.

What I had on my iPod during the run: Phedippidations # 157 (“The Third Annual World Wide Festival of Races”), and Seventh Son OBSIDIAN #32 (Final Episode, including “Eusocial Networking,” a short story by Scott Sigler, the founding father of podcast fiction).

Writing update: I’ve managed to keep my hands off of Meet the Larssons for another week.  I wrote a 599-word flash story and submitted it to an online fiction site (guess what their word count limit is).  I put together a three-page summary of one idea for my next novel (and damn, that feels weird to type:  “my next novel”); call that one “Project Downhill.”  Today, I started a summary of another idea for a completely different novel, a comic urban fantasy; call that one … I can’t think of a cool code name for it right now.  Just call it “Project L,” until I think of something cooler.  There’s one more idea I may try to hash out before I make up my mind, but I think I’m likely to pick one of these two.  Once I make up my mind, I’m going to try the Snowflake Method of outlining the novel; I wrote Meet the Larssons by the seat of my pants, and it needs major restructuring.  As unnatural as it feels to think about preparing increasingly detailed outlines before doing the “real” writing, I would really like to avoid having to do this kind of major work on the second draft next time; I hope to limit the revisions to touching up the paint and banging in a couple of loose nails, instead of building an entire addition and moving a number of load-bearing walls.

I’m starting to see other people blogging about doing NaNoWriMo, which starts in a couple of weeks.  If you’re doing NaNo, then best of luck to you, and have fun.  I know I made the right decision not to do it this year; I want to get back to MTL before December, and I want to have an idea of what the next novel will be as well.  I’d also like to finish one or two more short stories by the end of the year.  All of that means that NaNo would be a bad idea, and an unnecessary one; I don’t need the kick in the pants to write, I just need to keep doing it.  Still, though, it looks like fun, and I like the community (and competitive) spirit that imbues the venture.  It does feel weird not to be in the middle of a major writing project. I know I’m going back to MTL soon, but until I do I feel a little at loose ends.  I’ve been reading on the train instead of writing, and it just feels wrong, like I’m slacking.

I’m enjoying telling callers and doorbell ringers that I’ve already voted — there’s nothing more I can do for them.  I encourage you to vote early if that’s an option for you; here in Chicago, at least, the lines are much shorter than they are on election day, and it means you don’t have to worry about something unexpected preventing you from voting on November 4.

There Are Pigs Flying Through the Snow in Hell Tonight.

The Chicago Tribune just endorsed Barack Obama for President, the first Democrat the paper has ever endorsed for President.

Remember to vote early if you can — you never know what could happen to you between now and Election Day.  I voted yesterday.

One more reason to vote for Barack:  Unfocused Junior told me this evening, “John McCain was the cranky old man who lived on the corner of your block when you were a kid.”  I explained that McCain had never lived on my block.  “Well, then,” he said, “John McCain is just a cranky old man.”  Exactly.

My Wife Isn’t Speaking to Me, Except to Mock. Sweet, Sweet Mockery.

We just had an enjoyable night shouting at the weird smiley cranky man on TV.  I was sorry to hear about those damn community organizers and how they’re destroying the fabric of democracy, but maybe it isn’t as bad as all that — apparently the cranky man loved the community organizers before he abhored them (Thanks, Boing Boing!).

I’m traveling on Election Night, and Mrs. Unfocused is … displeased with me.  We have spent four presidential election nights together; this would have been the fifth, and the first where we were really enthusiastic about the candidate that might actually win.  She is very, very displeased with me.

So she’s told me to tell you that you’re all invited over to watch the returns on November 4, while I’m out of town.  We have a few nice bottles of wine we’ve been saving for special occasions; she’s going to break them out, win or lose (it’s possible we opened one of these evening already, and may even have almost finished it).  Also, she’s an excellent cook, so you can look forward to lovely hors d’oeuvres — probably all of my favorites, including the bacon-wrapped dates.  Damn, those are good.  Enjoy.  I’ll probably call in a couple of times during the evening, but she won’t stay on the phone long with guests in the house.

Fall (?) Sunday Stats #2: Training Matters, and Did I Mention I Finished the First Draft of My Novel?

It’s 80 degrees at 4pm.  How is it fall?  In a few minutes, I’m going to go out and mow our front lawn, which is still green and growing in October for the first time in the six years we’ve lived in this house.  Thank the rain we had in August and September, I guess, because it sure wasn’t anything I did to keep the grass growing.

The lawn appears to be the only damn thing that is growing, of course.  I managed to stay fairly calm about the economy until Monday, when the excrement really started to hit the artificial wind machine, and when I listened to This American Life’s Another Frightening Show About the Economy.  This podcast provides a really good explanation of credit default swaps and the freezing of the debt markets.  The explanation is a little too clear, if you ask me; it left me in a state of near-paralytic dread.  I’ve managed to remain rational, at least so far.  I haven’t been able to convince myself to rebalance our retirement accounts to buy into the declining markets, however, even though I think that’s what we ought to be doing.

Miles run today:  13.1, for the third annual World Wide Half Marathon, part of the World Wide Festival of Races.  It was a beautiful day, sunny but too hot for a long run (and if I thought it was bad, pity the poor folks running the Chicago Marathon).  Still, I’m not going to complain about the weather on what could be the last really nice weekend until spring.

The World Wide Festival of Races is a virtual race series — the third running of the World Wide Half Marathon, the second running of the Kick the Couch 5K, and the first Zen Run 10K.  It’s led by Steve Runner of the Phedippidations podcast, and his co-race directors (whose names are impossible to find on the website).  It’s the easiest race you’ll ever run, logistically.  You sign up in advance.  You commit to run one of the distances on or about the assigned weekend.  Maybe you join a virtual race team.  You decide on your own route — maybe as part of an organized race, maybe not — and then you run it, and upload your results.

My race route itself was nothing special — my ordinary out-and-back to the lake front path, plus a couple of miles on the path itself.  There was a little extra poignancy to the run because yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my first marathon, and the marathon itself was in progress just a few blocks south of my own route.

As a race, my World Wide Half was, to put it mildly, a disaster.  I haven’t been for a run since my close encounter with a car wheel more than two weeks ago, and I’ve been even more sedentary than that would ordinarily mean because of the 1630-mile road trip to the Catskills we took last weekend to go to a wedding, and the push to finish Meet the Larssons.

Oh, by the way, in case you missed it, I finished the first draft of MTL.  More on that in a bit.

Back to the race.  Two weeks off, eating more junk than usual, sitting on my tucus for hours on end, left my legs and back muscles flabby and my tendons and ligaments tight.  I ached all the way through the run, and developed a massive blister on my right foot.  My finishing time was 2:09:48, which is 24 minutes slower than my time for the tempest-tossed Chicago Half Marathon.  I still hurt, six hours (and two Aleve) after I finished.  By comparison, I was well-trained for the Chicago Half and in pretty good shape, so the downpour barely affected my time.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I didn’t skip the race today.  I run alone all year, and one of the things I like best about the World Wide Festival of Races is knowing that there are hundreds of other people running alone, and we’re all running together.

What I listened to during the run:  Phedippidations #156 (“Cheers from a Little Blue Bubble,” the annual episode of cheers and shouts of encouragement to World Wide Half participants); I Should Be Writing #102, and Adventures in SciFi Publishing #53.

Writing this week since my last Sunday Stats:  6,531 words (net) of Meet the Larssons, including “THE END” on Wednesday night.  I actually wrote 8,737 words, but I cut a 2,206 word scene as I went.   To finish the draft, I did my usual writing on the train to and from work, plus several binges at home and even in the car on the drive back from the wedding.  Despite my intent to leave the draft alone for at least a month, I’ve been reading Hooked, by Les Edgerton, which has given me a good idea for a new opening scene for the second draft, and a couple of other ideas as well.  I have made notes, but so far have refrained from going back to it.  A commenter here recommended this book to me several months ago; I’m too lazy to search out that post so I can give you proper credit, but thanks.

I took Unfocused Girl to a birthday party out in the ‘burbs yesterday afternoon, and spent the time up the street at Starbucks working on “Secretary-General,” the short story I started a little over a month ago then put aside to finish MTL.  I cut 500 words out of it as I re-read what I’d done, then wrote around 350 words.  I want to finish this story, polish it up, and submit it before I get back to MTL.

I’d also like to hash out one or two-page treatments of three different ideas I have for my next novel.  They’re very different, and I’m not sure what I want to work on next.  I figure that writing them out in a more extended form than the one-sentence summaries I have now will help me decide.

Right before we left for the wedding, TTB was rejected by the most recent outlet I’d submitted it to.  The night I finished MTL, I submitted TTB to another e-zine, one I had only recently come across and which seems to be looking for this kind of fiction.  We’ll see.

In other writing news, Unfocused Girl would like to announce that she has also just finished her book, The Adventure Friends and the Sword of Destiny.  It’s contemporary urban fantasy about four friends who go on a quest, find a magical object, meet a guiding spirit, discover special powers within themselves, rescue a friend, and fight their evil nemesis, all with the goal of bringing peace to their elementary school.  Yay, Unfocused us!

Political Rant: Ayers Is a Phony Issue.

It’s been difficult to concentrate on anything this week, with both the presidential campaign and the global economy teetering on the edge of the abyss.  I had been pretty successful until a few weeks ago in keeping some distance from political and financial news, with the exception of watching the conventions and debates.  In the last couple of weeks, though, McCain and Palin — Palin especially — and their surrogates have been whipping up their supporters into a strange frenzy.  I was glad to see McCain back away from it on Friday, telling his audience that Obama is a decent man with whom McCain has many fundamental disagreements.

McCain and Palin continue to bang away at the “Obama pals around with domestic terrorists” meme, however, arguing that Obama’s associations with University of Illinois professor and former leader of the Weather Underground William Ayers demonstrate something important about Obama’s patriotism or judgment.  Obama denies any meaningful connection with Ayers, and The New York Times ran a long piece recently, concluding that there isn’t, and never was, much of a relationship between Obama and Ayers, but McCain and Palin keep coming back to it.

There isn’t any more support for the allegations now than there was when the Times wrote its story, but it’s still out there.  The Daily Beast, former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown’s latest project and my new favorite news and commentary aggregator, has unfortunately had it as its lead story the entire weekend, giving the claims far more credibility than they’re worth, with blurbs that are mostly skeptical of the Obama’s explanations and the Times story.  The pundits quoted don’t actually have any facts to share, they just try to poke holes in Obama’s version as backed up by the Times.

The Daily Beast would do well to add a link to today’s Chicago Sun-Times.  There’s a good story, based on work done by, showing that the alleged relationship between Obama and Ayers consists of a couple of common board memberships, a small fund raiser in 1995, and a $200 donation in 2001.  Ayers was never convicted of anything, and doesn’t appear to have ever actually hurt anyone.  Sure, he could have hurt someone, and I’m not condoning what he admits to having done, but let’s be serious about this:  compare Obama’s tenuous association with a guy who is now generally considered non-toxic (he’s a state employee, for Pete’s sake) with Palin’s support of a group that advocates Alaska’s secession from the Union:

This Is The End.

No, not a post about the Incredible Shrinking Global Economy (please, I just had dinner!).  I just finished the first draft of Meet the Larssons.  Here’s how it ends:


Sorry, I should have posted a spoiler alert.  It’s been 10 months, 104,258 words, and a whole lot of unattractive whining, but I made it.  Now all I have to do is restructure the plot, rewrite most of it, and edit out the stupid parts.  Can o’ corn.

I finished a novel.  Heh.

According to Scrivener, it will be 462 pages when I print it out; it would be 277 pages if printed as a paperback.

Hey, I said if.

Sorry, I’m a little giddy, and mind-boggingly tired.  In a few weeks, I’ll come back to it, and realize that of the 104,258 words, about 85,000 of them will be full of suck, but for now, I’m going to pretend that it’s all brilliant.  Brilliant!

Now I’m going to have a glass of wine with Mrs. Unfocused in celebration of, well, me.

In case you’re interested, here’s what I was listening to when I wrote the final chapter:  Up From the Ground Below, by M Shanghai String Band, the best original bluegrass music being performed today (as far as I know, anyway), and excellent music to finish a novel by.

It has been a busy week and a half, which is why I haven’t posted in a while, but I’m sure you’ve all enjoyed the break.  I’ll try to catch up over the weekend.  Meanwhile, have you been keeping up with the Absolute Write October Blog Chain?

October Blog Chain: Novelus Interruptus

It’s time for another Absolute Write blog chain, and this time our fearless leader is Ralph at Neither Here Nor There.  He started us off with his post about the agony of working on the second draft of his novel in Of Anxieties, Frustrations and Self-Imposed Deadlines; if you haven’t read it, you should.  I’ll wait.

Tonight, I can only aspire to know Ralph’s pain.  I am thisclose to finishing the first draft of Meet the Larssons, the novel I’ve been working on since January 2.  I wrote something over 3,000 words yesterday alone; I finally called it a night out of sheer exhaustion sometime after 1am.  The draft is currently over 102,000 words long.

But I didn’t finish it.  I have at least two scenes left to go:  the final scene I’ve had in mind since I first hashed out a couple of pages of notes on January 2, and one scene to get me there. If I hadn’t spent all evening working on a brief, I might have finished it this evening.  As it is, I may not get any concentrated time to work on it until Monday, because the whole family is trekking out to New York for a wedding.  We leave tomorrow, and because we’ve got a box full of crazy with our names on it, we’re driving to the Catskills in one day.  Road trip!  So I probably won’t finish until next week, which is a little frustrating.

Not as frustrating as it’s going to be restructuring MTL after I type “The End,” though.  Those few pages of notes are the only outline I’ve ever done for this book, and it shows.  If I’d spent more time outlining, I might not have had to do as much reworking in the second draft; I might even have bee able to skip the second draft altogether and go straight to the third draft, editing words one at a time instead of moving around entire chapters.  On the other hand, I might never have started writing the novel at all, and just figuratively tossed those notes into the same cluttered drawer with all of my other unfinished (or unstarted) ideas for novels or stories over the past 15 years.

Once I have this novel under my belt, though, when I start my next one — and there will be a next one — I expect to spend a lot more time outlining it, maybe chapter by chapter.  I have always thought of myself as an organic writer as opposed to an outliner, but I think I’ll try it the other way to see if it works better.

So what about you, Sassee?  Do you outline, or do you just start throwing words onto the page?

Neither Here Nor There
Unfocused Me
A Blog, I Has One
Spittin’ Out Words Like a Llama
Life in Scribbletown
Organized Chaos
South Asia Fair
Corvette — An American Dream
Christian Woman