Monthly Archives: December 2008

Faster Than a Really, Really Slow Bullet.

My “pages revised” counter for Meet the Larssons has moved a whopping two pages (that’s 0.4%, for those of you playing along at home) today, from 105 to 107 pages revised out of the 500-page printed manuscript.  Revising those two pages took me over 90 minutes, because I also rewrote a page I rewrote yesterday, and wrote an additional page or so of material. It feels like I’m writing the whole book all over again.

On the new shiny object front, I made some headway on the minor character synopses and started putting together the expanded plot synopsis for Project Hometown.  The word meter looks like I added 2350 words (up to 8476) but a lot of that was cutting and pasting from earlier steps in the Snowflake Method.


Fall Sunday Stats #10/Revising Meet the Larssons Days 7 and 8: Sipping a Latte, Listening to the Cinnamon Bear.

I’m typing this out a bit at a time while we’re decorating the new, artificial Christmas tree.  I’ve got a pumpkin spice soy latte from the Starbucks around the corner, and we’re listening to The Cinnamon Bear, a children’s Christmas serial from the days of old time radio.  We listen to The Cinnamon Bear every year, usually one episode a day, but this year we kept forgetting to hunt down the CDs so now we’re catching up on two weeks of episodes all at once, thrilling to the adventures of Judy and Jimmy as they search through Maybeland with Paddy O’Cinnamon, the Crazy-Quilt Dragon and their friends as they try to recover the silver star for the top of their Christmas tree.  “Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the silver star,” as Judy always says. (One caveat:  I linked to a set of the CDs on Amazon, but it isn’t the same set we have, which isn’t available anymore, so I can’t vouch for the sound quality.)

Junior pointed out that in real life, it really is Christmas, because we have our silver star for the top of our tree.  What do you put on the top of yours, if you have one?

How many miles did you — oh, never mind: Yeah, I skipped the run altogether today.  Junior is sick (still?  again?  who knows?), and was a lot needier than last Sunday morning.  Also, we went to two holiday parties last night, which were great fun and left me a wee bit tuckered out.  I did get a couple of 4+ mile runs in during the week and Unfocused Girl and I went to taekwondo yesterday for the first time in three weeks, so I haven’t been a complete lump.

What’s been playing on the iPod? Among my regular podcast subscriptions, J.C. Hutchins has a cool series of video podcasts about a mysterious silver case and a sinister videogame release; Mur Lafferty released episode #106 of I Should Be Writing (“Don’t Panic!”); and Escape Pod has pushed out several episodes of flash fiction from its Flash Fiction Contest (the winner:  “Mission to Dover,” by Gideon Fostick).   Each of these podcasts is available through the link to the podcaster’s site and through iTunes.  Last week I posted about Writing Excuses, which I found from the recommendation of another blogger (unfortunately, I’ve forgotten who — it was a blog I came across during some semi-random surfing).  That same blogger also pointed me to The Kissy Bits, a podcast from 2005-2006 about writing romance.  The host, Kiki, is an aspiring chick-lit author.  I don’t know who her intended audience is for the podcast, but in the episodes I’ve listened to (#8 through the final episode, #17, which are all available on iTunes; all episodes, including #1-#7, appear to be available on her blog), she has done a nice job explaining to those of us who don’t read romance novels the different character archetypes, plot skeletons, and given solid advice on writing the “kissy bits.”  I plan to listen to the first seven episodes this week.  In one of the blog comments, Kiki says she may come back with more episodes in 2009 — I hope she does.  As always, I appreciate any recommendations (and if you make a recommendation in the comments, I won’t lose it).

How’s the writing going? Not badly at all.  The One-Pass Revision of Meet the Larssons is going slowly but well.  I’m through page 105, and I just finished what used to be Chapter 10 and is now Chapter 3.  I’m still doing at least as much rewriting as editing, but I now have several pages in my “done” pile that have just a few minor edits instead of looking like I broke open a fountain pen on top of them.

Actually, just two, but still.  Here they are:


The outlining for Project Hometown is going well, too — up to 6,125 words as of Friday evening.  I hope to finish all of the minor character synopses this week, and then move on to the expanded plot synopsis.

As I mentioned before, the Mrs. and I went to two parties last night:  one given by neighbors, the other given by friends we know through my office.  At the party given by our neighbors, my wife ran into Mary Osborne, a woman she had met at this neighbor’s house a few months ago; they got to talking, and the Mrs. found out that Mary is also an unpublished novelist, so the Mrs. introduced us — we were on our way out, so we only had a minute to chat, but it was an interesting experience, because since I’ve started writing I haven’t met any other unpublished writers, except for the members of the one crit group meeting I attended.  Mary’s got two books finished and her website — which has the first chapter of each available for download — just went live.

What was interesting about the whole experience is that if I had been left to my own devices, there would have been no chance at all that I would have learned that Mary was a novelist.  Because I’m not very good at conversations that go past “what do you do?”  If you’ve got a day job and write fiction at night, or early in the morning, or whatever, you’ve got to be really confident in your writing (or really disenchanted with your day job) to say “I write novels” or “I write science fiction” or “I write chick-lit” in response to that question.  Maybe Mary does.  I don’t.  Someday I will, but not yet.

One more thing: Saint Lucia Day was great.  The cinnamon rolls were very tasty (and we had to change our sheets because of all the crumbs), the coffee was delicious, and Unfocused Girl was very cute in her Lucia gown and battery-powered candle-bedecked crown.  Here’s a picture to prove it:


Then we sat around watching the Swedish chef on Youtube.  Here’s a sample:

Bork bork bork!

A Rejection. A Submission. More Outlining. No Editing. TGIF!

Just a quick update tonight.  Another rejection slip in today’s mail:  “Jimmies” was rejected by one of the big three pro magazines, the only one of the three that I thought would want it.  I spent a while this evening combing through my bookmarks of submission guidelines and finally made up my mind to send it to a semi-pro journal that I like; the editor rejected TTB a couple of months ago, but that hardly makes him unique.

I’ve just about finished writing the synopses of the story for Project Hometown from the viewpoints of each of the major characters.  According to the Snowflake Method (link on the sidebar under “On Writing”), the synposes are supposed to be one page for each of the major characters, and half a page for the minor characters.  That didn’t work for me; of the four major characters, the synopses are approximately 1200, 350, 750, and 900 words.  I’ll have to try harder for the minor characters to keep to a limit, or I’ll be dealing with them through the end of the year.  After I finish the character synposes, the next step is to go back and expand the overall plot synopsis.

No revisions this evening due to exhaustion, researching where to submit “Jimmies,” and (most important) much needed & wanted catching up with Mrs. Unfocused — it’s the first night since Sunday we’ve both been home all evening.  This evening she noticed I got a haircut.  I got it on Wednesday.

Tomorrow’s Saint Lucia Day, which means Unfocused Girl and Mrs. Unfocused bring up coffee and cinnamon rolls for us all to have in bed.  I love Swedish holidays!  Happy Saint Lucia day!

Saltwatch 2008-09:  Days after Dec. 1 without seeing a City of Chicago salt truck:  12.  The good folks at Chicagoist have been on this story for a while (here’s a link to a recent post about my Alderman ripping Mayor Daley a new one, which I’m glad to see, even though I disagree with his proposal to raid the Midway privatization funds to fund snow removal).  As a commenter said earlier this week, apparently Daley’s snow removal plan is to wait until Sunday, when it’s supposed to go up to the high forties, so the snow will simply melt.  Long-term, we can all just wait until June before leaving our houses.

Revising Meet the Larssons, Day 6: The Value of Crit Groups.

I got back to MTL tonight, but I’m so tired from going out last night and getting home late that I was only able to slog through eleven pages (87 down, 413 to go).  Of the eleven (not quite half of old chapter 10/new chapter 3), I cut four pages entirely without adding replacement text.  I’m worried that after all this cutting, I might have a very tight, well-written short story instead of a novel, but I know I have at least as much to add in the middle and end.

About six months ago, I attended my first ever writers’ critique group meeting.  I found a relatively new group through, signed up, and posted the chapter I slogged through on Sunday and Monday for comment at the meeting.  I had no idea what to expect, but I went into it with a fairly open mind.  I was a little concerned by the one guy who posted a forty-page memoir excerpt (we had a ten-page limit) that was all one paragraph, but based on the other samples posted his was an anomoly.

Putting aside the run-on memoir guy (who didn’t bother to read anyone else’s work in advance of the meeting), most of the other writing was pretty good, and certainly the general level of quality was about where I was or better.  The people in the group seemed perfectly nice, and respectful of each other’s feelings.  Still, I haven’t been back, and I haven’t really been able to put my finger on why.

As I’ve said before, I’m looking for new-to-me podcasts about writing and other subjects to expand my listening.  I recently saw a mention on someone else’s blog to two podcasts for writers that I hadn’t heard of before (I’m really sorry if it’s your blog — I lost track of the post and can’t find it through google — please claim credit in the comments and link to your original post).  One hasn’t put out a new episode in a couple of years; I’m listening to the back episodes now and will post about it when I’m done.

The other is Writing Excuses, in which hosts Brandon Sanderson, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells, and other semi-regulars talk to each other and other writers about different topics of interests to writers.  Each episode is only about 15 minutes long (“Because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart!”), and they aren’t limited to science fiction or fantasy topics.  Writing Excuses is in its second season, all of which is available on iTunes or on the blog at the link above (CDs of the first season are available for sale).  Occasional problems with sound quality aside, Writing Excuses is an interesting, informative, and often funny podcast.  The hosts are younger writers (well, younger than me, anyway) at different stages of their careers (some are just beginning to earn a living by their writing, while Sanderson is very well known and just took over the Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series).

In episode 5 of season 2, the Writing Excuses team discussed critique groups.  Several of the hosts talked about how important their writing groups had been to their development as authors, but one mentioned that one thing that can drive him crazy is a writing group where the participants don’t just tell you what did or didn’t work for them, but offer you suggestions on how to fix your story.

Bam!  That was exactly what was wrong with the group I tried last spring.  The leader of the group and a couple of the other attendees didn’t just want to tell me what they thought was weak, but they also had very firm ideas about how I could make it better.  And I hated their ideas.

One member of the group gave me a couple of useful notes during the meeting, then handed me a markup of my chapter at the end.  I took it home, but I was so discouraged from the meeting that I never looked at it.  The only reason I didn’t throw it away was that Mrs. Unfocused did read his comments, and said that they made sense to her.

This evening, before I got started hacking away at old chapter 10/new chapter 3, I went back and reviewed his comments on old chapter 9/new chapter 2 and compared it to my own edits from earlier this week.  As it turns out, I had come up with about half of the same edits on my own.  But the guy also noted that one two page, explanatory section read like an office memo and bored the crap out of him (he said it more nicely than that), and I had left it in the revised version of the chapter almost completely untouched.  I reread it, then reread what Holly says about this point in the One-Pass Revision Process (link is in the sidebar, under “On Writing”):  “If the scene just tells the reader about your world or its history, or lacks characters, conflict, and change, put a note in your spiral-bound notebook telling yourself which important points of worldbuilding you’re cutting, and draw a big X through the entire scene.”  So I cut it.  By itself, that one suggestion was worth the hour-plus I spent at that group meeting.  I don’t know that I’d go back — I really don’t want suggestions on how to “fix” it, but I very much appreciated the comments on what the readers did or didn’t like.

Forgive the typos — need sleep.  Just one more thing:

Saltwatch 2008-09:  Days after Dec. 1 without seeing a City of Chicago salt truck:  11.  Have you seen a salt truck?  Should we put pictures of the salt trucks on the sides of milk cartons?

Update on Project Hometown.

As expected, I didn’t get any work done on the revisions to Meet the Larssons.  I did manage to work on the train downtown this morning and again at lunch on the Snowflake Method outline of Project Hometown.  This is a revelatory process; I’m thinking so much more about the plot and the characters that I think writing this second novel will be a very different experience from the first draft of MTL.  Today, as part of Step 5, I finished an 1100-word synopsis of the main character’s story, and a 350-word synopsis of my secondary point-of-view character’s story.  This is far more planning than I did for MTL, and (so far, anyway) a far more structured plot, which will be much better for my alpha and beta readers.

Days since Dec. 1 without seeing a City of Chicago salt truck: 10.  If you see one, please comment about it.

Yo, Mayor Daley! Where Are the Salt Trucks?

It’s winter in Chicago, and for the second snowfall in a row, the city’s usual fleet of salt trucks are nowhere to be found.  Under the light covering of snow, the streets are covered with ice, but the only salt going down is what my neighbors and I are throwing down ourselves.

I took a cab last night, and the driver was complaining about the same thing.  He said that if the city isn’t going to salt this winter, he’s going to stop driving.

Bad things happen to Chicago mayors who ignore winter weather.  Daley has been one of the best at keeping the streets cleared & salted so that it isn’t completely treacherous to drive.  Maybe he’s just distracted by the financial crisis or Blago’s arrest, but come on, Mr. Mayor — get back in the game.  If this had happened a year ago, you’d have fired someone by now.

No work on the MTL revisions last night due to distraction from the Blago story, and none tonight because of a holiday party.  Back to work on Friday Thursday (getting ahead of myself looking forward to the weekend, I guess) .


I am not going to spend much time here discussing our disgraced governor.  He was disgraced before this arrest, but the misconduct alleged in the criminal complaint is truly mind-boggling.  Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn posted a link to a text version of the complaint here, and provides some interesting commentary to boot, including a quote from my State Rep., Joe Lyons, from last year, calling the hopefully soon-to-be outgoing governor “a madman” and “insane,” and not in a good way.

I will say that Blago took office as a reformer, and brought a number of smart, dedicated, and honest hardworking people into the administration, including several people I know.  Not least on the tally of the damage he has caused is the unfair taint that may follow them long after he’s gone.

Update at 11:15pm: I have now gone through the complaint, and — assuming the allegations are true — what this guy did was so bad you have to wonder if he was planning for an insanity defense.  The frustrating thing was also how stupid he comes across.  Not just in the sense of how could he think he wouldn’t be caught, but in simply not understanding how the world works.  He seemed to think that the President has the power to remove officers of not-for-profit organizations and replace them (say, with departing Midwestern governors), or that Obama could pick up the phone and call Warren Buffett and Buffett would write a check for $10 million to fund a private foundation for Blago to run (at a nice salary).  Delusional.

When I was much younger, I had an interest in a political career (it was finally cured by a two-year term on the board of our 500-unit condominium association).  At some point when we were in college and I was still relatively new to Illinois, I expressed an interest to the future Mrs. Unfocused in some day running for governor.  Don’t even think about it, she told me.  I don’t remember her exact words, but the sense of it was that Illinois politics is a cesspool, and my ambition shouldn’t be to jump into it.  You want to go into politics, she said, fine, but go national and stay out of Springfield.

Now I’ve done her one better, and dropped the whole idea, but the point is, she’s a smart lady, which is one of the reasons I married her.

Revising Meet the Larssons, Day 5: What’s the Third Pile For?

Holly Lisle describes the set up for the Manuscript Slog as requiring space for your spiral notebook and three piles:  one for the pages you haven’t reviewed yet, one for the pages you’ve reviewed and marked up, and one for the pages you’ve reviewed but haven’t made any revisions to.

So far, I only need two piles.  I reworked another 10 pages last night, and 7 more tonight — through page 76 — and I sincerely doubt I will ever need a pile for that last category.  I mean, really, if I got an entire page of MTL perfect the first time, it would be only by coincidence, the same way that if you put a monkey in front of a word processor and let him type long enough, he might turn out a page of comprehensible English.  And yes, I’m the monkey in that example.

By cutting the first eight chapters, I cut approximately 11,900 words.  As I’m editing into the meat of the book now, I worry when I cut lines or paragraphs that I’m cutting too much.  But in addition to all the cutting, I’m doing a lot of rewriting (as opposed to revising):

Selected pages from tonight's Slog.

Selected pages from tonight's Slog.

The front of page 72 - I kept the first two lines, then crossed out everything else on the page and wrote over it.

The front of page 72 - I kept the first two lines, then crossed out everything else on the page and wrote over it.

I continued onto the back of page 72, and then on to page 72.1 in my notebook -- it flows neatly into the original start to page 73.

I continued onto the back of page 72, and then on to page 72.1 in my notebook -- it flows neatly into the original start to page 73.

I do feel like my writing has improved in this past year, though, so I would hope that MTL will get better on the rewrite.  God knows, it can’t get worse.  There’s a reason this part of the process is called the Manuscript Slog:  it’s like wading through a fetid swamp, and being bitten to death my mosquitoes above the water line while leeches drain your blood below it, but in a good way.  Imagine being Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, towing the boat and Katherine Hepburn upriver, and you’ll have some idea what I mean.  In the end, you know there will be the satisfaction of a job well done, a hearty handshake of congratulations, and a helping hand to pull off the leeches.

Which reminds me:  my first blogiversary is coming up on December 17.  Not the leeches, the feeling as though my writing has improved in this past year).  I need to prepare for My Year in Review About Me, with a very special post about me.  Please remember to stop by on Dec. 17, and leave a comment — about me, my year of blogging, whatever else you’d like to say … about me.

Here’s something about me that you’ve probably already figured out:  I am an enormous geek (enormous being the size of my geekitude, not me; I’m kind of short). Because I am an enormous geek, I am unreasonably excited that TNT has produced a new movie in The Librarian series.  The really geeky part?  This is the third one in the series, and only now are the Mrs. and I talking about whether the kids might enjoy watching it, too.

Fall Sunday Stats #9/Revising Meet the Larssons, Day 4: The Easy Part Is Over.

I get the Bad Dad Award today.  Junior has been going through a whiny and uncooperative phase lately, especially when it comes to transitions — leaving the house to go to school, leaving school to go home, even going to breakfast with Santa yesterday morning was a test of my patience with his kvetching (I failed, BTW).

This morning, the Mrs. had to go to church a little early for a rehearsal, and since she usually takes the kids I was looking forward to three hours free to edit MTL and get in a run.  So when Junior announced that he didn’t want to go to church, I admit to a little bit of concern that my plans were going to go out the window.  Lucky for me, I had a babysitter I could call on short notice:  Mr. Television!  Go, go Power Rangers (the mid-1990s movie, at 95 minutes).  And What’s New Scooby-Doo? (insert DVD, press PLAY ALL, kthxbye).  Apparently, that’s all he’s wanted all week — he was happy as a clam, and only came upstairs twice, to ask me to change the DVD or get him a snack.  I think I owe him at least a couple of hours of Trouble, Go Fish or Battleship.

Is that Buckeye Outdoors widget on your sidebar just for decoration? Check it, chief:  I ran FIVE miles today (*puffs out chest, snorts*).  Yeah, yeah (*deflates*).  A lousy 5 miles, which makes it my longest run in three weeks, and only my second run in that time.  I’ve been busy, I’ve been tired, it’s been cold, I went on a 1600 mile road trip, yadda yadda yadda.  I’m lazy.  I ran on the treadmill this morning, because I am (as previously noted in this space) a wuss, and it was four degrees outside at 8am; it’s almost noon as I write this, and it has made it up to 11.  Yippee for gas fireplaces!  [Update at 2:30pm:  it’s up to 16.  Let’s go streaking!]

What’s been playing on the iPod? During today’s run, I listed to Adventures in SciFi Publishing #69 (Tom Lloyd) and part of Escape Pod #179 (“Arties Aren’t Stupid”).  Earlier this week, I listened to I Should Be Writing #105 (welcome back, Mur!) and Accident Hash #279 (“2008 Turkey Drive Special”).  I’m still looking for recommendations, but there are a couple of new-to-me podcasts I’m going to put on my playlist in the next week or two; if I like what I hear, I’ll let you know.

How’s the writing and revising going? The Manuscript Slog Meter for MTL at the top of the sidebar is a little misleading.  The “59 pages revised” is actually 58.5 pages cut, with half a page revised and stuck in between pages 84 and 85.  That means I have cut all of the first eight chapters.  I’ve also handwritten a new chapter one (13 pages); old chapter nine will be new chapter two, and so on.  I have yet to actually “revise” anything at all.  Now that I’ve finished the new chapter one, the real editing will begin with chapter nine/two.  It’s worth noting that the name “One-Pass Revision Process” is a little misleading, because it’s really two passes:  the first pass, the Manuscript Slog, is by hand; the second, the Typing In, is at the keyboard, when you type in (duh) the handwritten revisions and make additional edits on the fly.

I’ve been searching out other writers who have blogged their experiences with the One-Pass Revision Process.  I’ve already mentioned Amy at The Purple Patch, who completed it in two weeks; Jason Penney at All the Billion Other Moments blogged his experience with it over the course of a summer a couple of years ago, then launched straight into NaNoWriMo.  If anyone else has gone through this process (One-Pass Revision, not NaNo), please let me know how it worked out for you — if you blogged about it, feel free to post a link in the comments.

The Mrs. cut me loose yesterday afternoon for a 90-minute break at the local Starbucks, because she loves me, and I used the time to work on the next phase of the Snowflake Method of outlining my next novel (which I’m calling Project Hometown, for lack of a better title) which Randy describes as follows:

For each of your major characters, take an hour and write a one-page summary sheet that tells:

  • The character’s name
  • A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
  • A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

I decided that I had three major characters, and for each one I focused hard on his/her story, from that character’s point of view.  In 90 minutes at Starbucks, I did more planning for Project Hometown than I ever did for MTL until I finished the first draft.  I have no idea whether it will be a better novel than MTL, but I think it will be easier to stick to the story arc.

Finally, I resubmitted TTB to an online journal.  We’ll see.

And now I’m off to help Junior make a bo stick out of paper towel rolls and duct tape.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Revising Meet the Larssons, Day 3: There Will Be Blood.

I got up early this morning, went downstairs, and got back to the revisions.  I left off last night at page 6.  Pages 7 through 29:  all cut.  I made pages and pages of notes of the key points from the stuff that I’m taking out, but everything in these first 29 pages (except for two paragraphs on page 3) is just backstory.  Here’s what Holly Lisle has to say about that:
“If the scene just tells the reader about your world or its history, or lacks characters, conflict, and change, put a note in your spiral-bound notebook telling yourself which important points of worldbuilding you’re cutting, and draw a big X through the entire scene.”

And if scene after scene after scene contains nothing but backstory and description, well, the “revisions” go pretty quickly:


Pay no attention to the notes on a few of the pages — I started to revise, then realized the scene just needed to be cut.  The notes I’m making now will be helpful later, and soon enough I’ll get through these early scenes.  Then the real pain will start.