Monthly Archives: February 2009

Happy Birthday, Unfocused Girl!

Hey there. It’s been a busy week, and I haven’t really had time to touch base, or sleep much, or anything.  But I’m still here, as you can see from the Twitter feed on the sidebar.

Today is our beautiful, brilliant daughter’s 8th birthday. I can’t believe how big she’s gotten, and how mature she getting. She is also a genuinely nice, gentle person.

Except on Saturday mornings, when we train, along with Junior, to be the FIGHTING UNFOCUSEDS.  Time to get ready for Family Taekwondo, the one hour a week when she gets no greater pleasure than from punching and kicking me, or taking me down to the mat.

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Winter Sunday Stats #10: Things Are Looking Up.

As I often do, I’m starting this Sunday Stats post on Sunday morning, and I’ll fill it in during the day as I get things done (or not done).  What’s unusual is that I’m starting this in bed at 7am, because I woke up at 6:30, still full from the night before.

Attentive readers may remember from post #200 a month ago that the Green-Eyed Siren and I have not been out to dinner, just the two of us, in a long time.  Thanks in no small part to your many suggestions in the comments, we went out last night and had a terrific time.  We found a French restaurant we’d never been to in a neighborhood where we used to hang out (back in the last millennium).  There was a wait for a table, but they took my cell number and we walked over to a nearby bookstore/wine bar and spent a happy hour talking, drinking, and picking out books.  Funny but true: without knowing it until we got there, we walked into the store intending to look for the same book, Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair.  The Siren had seen an extended review of it on Necromancy Never Pays, and I had heard about it during the last meeting of the novelists’ support discussion group.  By itself the hour at the bookstore would have been the best night out we’d had in a while, but we were very glad to go to dinner.  The food was great, the company and conversation was better.  And it was nice to see that all of the restaurants in the area were crowded — maybe the economy isn’t in total collapse yet.

We figured out that the last time we could remember going out to dinner alone was the night before Mother’s Day, 2006.  It’s possible that there was one time after that, but we couldn’t place it.  Certainly not in 2008 (let alone 2009).

So we’ve promised each to do it again much sooner, but the deal is that first we have to read the books we bought last night.  I suspect we’ll be doing a lot of fast reading in the next couple of weeks.

Thanks again to those of you who suggested “research” for the dinner date scene in Meet the Larssons.  I still think having the date canceled was the right thing for the story, but at least I could write it now if I needed to.  It would be better, however, to have more data.  One night out is a pretty small sample…

On Writing:  Putting aside mouthing off to the Siren about Project Hometown last night at dinner to keep her laughing (although I didn’t think the mugging scene was that funny, may need to rethink it), I didn’t get much done this week.  It may have been a short week, but it was a busy one at The Firm.  I finished a chapter in the manuscript slog through Meet the Larssons, and I’ve outlined the first six scenes of Project Hometown.  As Randy Ingermanson describes it in Step 8 of the Snowflake Method, the scene by scene outline is best done in a spreadsheet, which is how I’m doing it.  Randy recommends just two columns:  one to identify the point-of-view character, and one to describe the action.  I have columns for POV character, the characters involved in the scene, the location, the time, a description of the action, and finally, any interesting character development or reveals.  Of the six scenes I’ve outlined so far, two are not described at all in the five page outline I drafted at the beginning of January.  That will happen more as I get deeper into the outline, but it was a fun surprise to see things I hadn’t thought about before come out so early on.  I haven’t gotten any work on either novel done today (just this nearly 1200 word blog post, which should probably tell me something), but I may be able to work on one or the other this evening, if I can stay awake.

On Running:  A not-very-long long run today, just a little over five miles in 42 minutes (8:18m/m pace) on the treadmill at home, due to a late start.  In 5 weeks, I need to knock nearly 7 minutes off that distance for the Shamrock Shuffle (time last year around 35:50).  I think I can do that, but I’ll have to start speed work this week.  I haven’t been able to get to the gym at all — I really need to get a little weightlifting in every week if I’m going to keep my weight down — but I managed a couple of good weekday runs despite not nearly enough sleep, both on the treadmill.  We did make it to Taekwondo yesterday, and Unfocused Girl broke a board with an elbow strike on her first try.  Junior wasn’t able to break his, but he’s still little and hasn’t been practicing that long.  He’s motivated now, though.

On the iPod:  For the treadmill runs, I’ve been watching Battlestar Galactica (Season 2 – I’m way behind, so please don’t post any spoilers!) on my laptop.  The Siren bought something called a SurfShelf, which fits over the treadmill control panel and lets you secure your laptop with a good view of the screen and easy access to the keyboard.  Obviously I’m not going to type while I run, but it’s great for watching videos (and occasionally reading blog comments) as the miles go by.

In other news, I twisted my own arm hard enough that I finally cracked and bought an iPhone.  Yes, I love it.  I will probably by a Shuffle for running, but the phone has allowed me to start listening to podcasts again while I walk to and from the train, or while I’m driving.  This week, I started to catch up, and listened to:  I Should Be Writing, Special Episode #42 (James Patrick Kelly interviews Kim Stanley Robinson) — I didn’t finish this episode, because I was listening in the car and the sound quality wasn’t quite strong enough to overcome the engine noise (Kelly’s questions were fine, but I kept missing Robinson’s answers) so I’ll have to finish it today; Grammar Girl #156 (What Is the Plural of Scissors?) and #157 (When to Use a Comma with “Too”); Writing Excuses, Season 2, Episode 18 (World Building Governments) and Episode 19 (Do Creative Writing Classes Help?); and various episodes of NPR’s Planet Money.  Auria Cortes from the blog Murder She Wrote recommended the Writers on Writing podcast.  Intending to give it a try, I looked on iTunes, found a podcast called “Writers on Writing,” and downloaded a couple of episodes (interviews of Amy Tan and William Gibson).  I’ll let you know how I like them, but the iTunes feed for this XM Radio-produced podcast only goes up to Oct. 30, 2008.  AC’s recommendation didn’t sound like she was talking about a discontinued podcast, so I checked the interwebs and found another podcast called “Writers on Writing,” which looks like it comes out three times a week and has for a while.  On iTunes, though, it’s called “Pen on Fire,” probably because of the other podcast.  So there you have it, two writerific podcasts for the price of one.  I’ll listen to them both and let you know what I think.

Itchy Fingers and Rejection.

I came out of the AWP conference pretty jazzed about Meet the Larssons and Project Hometown.  I jotted down half a dozen good ideas to incorporate into the revision of MTL, and at least that many ideas for Hometown.  Since the end of the conference, however, I haven’t done anything on either project.

Some of that was because I wanted to spend some time with the Siren and the kids, and some of was about being a little burned out after three days thinking about almost nothing but writing.  But some of it, I have to admit, was about screwing around on Twitter and Facebook and other places on the internet (or, as our kids call it, “teh stoopid internet,” because it conks out so often).  Tonight it was a combination of screwing around with a new toy and doing real bill-paying work.

But tomorrow, as we all know, is another day.  After the kids go to bed, I plan to get at least an hour in on Meet the Larssons.  As for Project Hometown, I think I’m ready to start the scene-by-scene spreadsheet in the Snowflake Method of outlining. I’ll try to get going on that over the weekend.

During the conference, I met people who had been working on their novels for years, so I don’t think I’m going to beat myself up too much for taking a few extra days off.  But my fingers are starting to itch from lack of output, and tweets, status updates, and blog posts aren’t going to cut it much longer.

I received another couple of rejection slips recently, by the way, for TTB and “Mr. President.”  “Jimmies” is now the only story I have out there.  I think both of those stories need to be trunked for a while, to give them (or me) time to get some distance.  I also want to consider getting back to “Jamie’s Story,” which I stopped working on last month and has lingered, unfinished, more or less in the gloom ever since.  What can I say?  It’s a tough business.

Winter Sunday Stats #9: Back to Real Life from AWP09.

DATELINE:  Sunday, February 15, 2008.  I started this post on Sunday but didn’t finish it until Monday.  I am too lazy to go back and correct all of the “yesterdays” and so on, so please read it as if I posted it on Sunday.

I spent so much of the last twee days tweeting on Twitter (tworry, it twounds twike I twave a tweech imtweadement) that sitting down to write a longish blog post seems like an impossible task.  Like writing a novel.  And like writing a novel, the only way to finish is to start (I’m feeling profound tonight).  Let’s get to the stats.

On Writing: This week, I did all the things that writers do that aren’t writing.  I talked about writing.  I listened to other people talk about writing.  I talked about talking about writing.  I even made some notes about ideas I had for my writing.  I did not, however, do any writing, except for 171 words of flash fiction for a contest held during the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2009 Conference, which I attended.  I didn’t win the contest (I told the story of a successful bank robbery from the point of view of the robber in the form of a series of Twitter tweets; can’t imagine why I didn’t win).

AWP 2009 was a very interesting experience.  Because it isn’t just a conference for writers but also for people who teach writing, there were a lot of academics, and a lot of the panels were directed towards teachers instead of writers.  If the conference hadn’t been here in town, I might not have gone.

I’m glad I did, though.  First, I was able to hang out with a couple of friends who I haven’t seen since the early 1990s — one a successful author, and the other with her first book coming out soon.  I’ll post a link when it comes out.  I got to know some of the people in my novelists’ discussion group a little better, which was nice; they’re a fun group.  I even managed to overcome my usual shyness and reticence and talk to a few new people at one of the receptions and at the book fair.

I got into a couple of conversations with literary criticism PhDs that I frankly didn’t understand — I wouldn’t be concerned about that, but one of the conversations involved some kind of deconstruction of The Simpsons, and I still didn’t get it.  So I walked away and drank with a trio of writers who teach at a community college in Minneapolis — they were a lot more accessible.  One of them looked just like Cory Doctorow.  In any case, everyone was friendly.

The panels on writing were interesting overall.  About 2/3 of the panels were either about teaching writing or literary criticism, and another significant chunk were readings by or tributes to authors I had never heard of, which made it pretty easy to choose what to attend.  On Thursday and Friday, I went to interesting discussions about writing first novels, writing about Chicago neighborhoods, mining your experiences for fiction material, writing historical fiction.  Two of the panels I wanted to attend (publishing your first book and writing flash fiction) were so popular people were sitting in the hallway hoping to hear some precious, precious wisdom through the open doors.  In each case, I decided I wasn’t that desperate for advice and got more coffee or hunted around the exhibitor tables looking for candy (there was a lot of candy).  I was sorry I skipped the panel on “Shameless Self-Promotion” — mostly intended to discuss internet and social media strategies — if only for the Q&A period, in which (I am told) every single “questioner” got up and spouted his or her elevator pitch before asking an obviously irrelevant question.  Everyone I spoke with who attended thought this was hugely annoying, but who did they expect would attend a panel on shameless self-promotion other than shameless self-promoters?

Friday night I mooched free drinks at the University of Utah reception and went to the “Literary Rock & Roll” readings by Z.Z. Packer, Joe Meno, and Dorothy Allison.  I am embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of any of them, because I am ridiculously under-read.  Allison, author of Bastard Out of South Carolina, was up last, clearly the headliner.  She read a short story called “Frog Fucking.”  I’m not going to describe the story — assuming I even could — except to say that I don’t know that I will ever look at baby carrots the same way again.  It isn’t about intercourse with amphibians.  She said up front that she liked the name of the event because she always wanted to be Janis Joplin, and she read like I imagine Janis would, in a throaty growl with a heavy southern twang.  I wanted to bring her a bottle of Jim Beam.  Packer and Meno were great, too.

Saturday was the best of the three.  I started off with a panel called “Truth or Consequences in Nonrealist Fiction,” which included multiple references to Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In, which has already been recommended to me, as well as an extended discussion of the writing of Samuel R. Delaney.  I bushwacked my way through The Einstein Intersection when I was 13, hated it, and have avoided his books ever since; I may give them another try.

Next up, I fought my way into an overcrowded panel on “Reading to Write:  Top Ten Ways to Read Like a Writer.”  I have no idea what this panel was about, because I stopped paying attention when one of the panelists told us to read the last page first.

After lunch and wandering the book fair, looking for free copies of literary journals, I went to “Writing in the Windy City:  Local Writers Reflect on Making It in Chicago.”  The panel included the director of StoryStudio Chicago, where I go for my novelists’ support discussion group.  It was an interesting discussion — I especially enjoyed the professor from an MFA program at an art school railing on MFA programs attached to English departments.  Toward the end, during the Q&A, there was a discussion about making room for your creative work; I’m not sure exactly what prompted the comment, but a woman near the back raised her hand, stood up, and said something like, “I was a visual artist, had an idea for a book, wrote the novel.  Four million copies sold worldwide.  Do whatever you want.”  Then she sat down.  Later, someone told me that she was Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife.  So there you go.

Next was “The Steady Gaze:  Writing Frankly about Sex and Sexuality in Fiction.”  During the Friday night readings, Joe Meno read immediately before Dorothy Allison’s “Frog Fucking.”  There was a sex scene in his story, and it went something like this:  “She took off her yellow tights, and then we did it.  Afterwards…”  My immediate reaction was that I would write a sex scene in pretty much the same way, so I went to “The Steady Gaze” to push my writerly boundaries.

Not to listen to people read pr0n for 75 minutes.

Well, mostly not.  You will be shocked to learn that the panel, held in a large ballroom, was full.  It was interesting, and stretched my boundaries a little, but I suspect that I will still write sex scenes more like Joe Meno than Dorothy Allison.

After that, where else could I go but “Then She Lit a Cigarette:  Strategies for Rethinking the Fictional Gesture”?  The point of this was that writers have characters light cigarettes when the author can’t think of anything else, and this type of stage business doesn’t advance the story or tell the reader anything interesting about the character.  The take-away:  When you describe gestures, you should make them count.  Richard Bausch was one of the panelists — his readings were terrific, I’m ordering one of his books today — but his off the cuff comments were absolutely hysterical.

That was the end of the conference for me.  I do want to mention two interesting conversations I had Friday night, that may help me rethink some of my writing.  When I was talking to the writing teachers from Minnesota, I described “Jimmies” to them.  One of the Minnesotans said it sounded like what I was writing was “slipstream,” or “the new fabulism.”  Since these categories are at the boundary of literary and genre fiction, it’s possible that I should try submitting to some of the literary journals that are interested in slipstream instead of the science fiction and fantasy outlets I’ve tried so far.

Later that night, I had dinner with that college friend with her first book coming out soon (well, I had dinner — it was 10:30, she’d eaten hours earlier and was just keeping me company).  I described Project Hometown, the novel I’ve been outlining off and on the last couple of months, and she suggested that it sounded like a young adult novel.  I thought there was too much adult material in it for it to be YA, and she said that really anything can be addressed in YA these days.  Since she’s a YA writer herself, I took that comment seriously, but also with a grain of salt, until I went to the panel on writing sex scenes and heard one of the authors on the panel read the sex scene from his successful YA novel.  So maybe it will be YA; it’s something I have to consider, at least.

On Running: I had one run on the treadmill on Tuesday, and that’s it.  Too busy getting out in the mornings during the conference, and Junior (who spent much of the week with a noxious stomach virus) stayed home from church on Sunday morning, so instead of going for a run, we made monsters out of cardboard and went to Starbucks.

On the iPod:  I don’t have an iPod anymore.  It’s broken.  *Sob* I need to get a new one.  I have, however, purchased the entire second season of Battlestar Galactica from iTunes to watch on my laptop during my treadmill runs.

That’s all I’ve got.  Feel free to follow me on Twitter, although I probably won’t be as active as I was during AWP.

Juggling at the Conference.

I’m at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2009 conference through Saturday.  AWP is my first conference, and I’m learning as much about conference attendance as I am about writing.  It also means I’m missing work, so I don’t have time to blog much about it tonight — I have a couple of hours of work to do after the kids go to bed.  I’ll write more about it over the weekend.  In the meantime, I did post throughout the day on Twitter (juggling tweets with office and personal emails on the Blackberry), and will do it again tomorrow and Saturday.  If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter.

Winter Sunday Stats #8: Entropic Smackdown.

Layoffs, knee problems, broken iPod, internet brownouts at home all weekend, various and sundry other issues.  I was never very into poetry, but I find I keep thinking of Yeats (yes, I had to look that up to be sure) these days:

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Not a terribly original reference, and things could be worse, of course:  in Russia, they’re trading cars for underwear, which probably confirms something I always suspected about Russian cars.  I haven’t been able to accomplish much of anything this week, in any part of my life, but what the hell.  I’ll start over on Monday.  Again.

On Writing: Bubkis.  Okay, five pages of revisions in Meet the Larssons — the moral equivalent of jack squat.  Seriously, I just haven’t had the mental energy, and I’m in a dark place with this book.  I can’t seem to make the time to work on it except on the train, and I’m just completely disconnected from it.  I am about as close to chucking the entire thing on the grill and burning it as I have ever been.  I don’t expect I will, but I’m doing something wrong.  I stopped working on other projects to make some progress on the novel, and after an initial burst of effort, I’ve now hit a point where I’m simply failing to accomplish anything and I’m losing the will to try.  I’m supposed to be going to a writer’s conference in town this week, and it’s going to take everything I’ve got not to just go to my office instead and close my door.

On Running: Another nice Sunday morning, and I ran 10 miles in 1:25 – an 8:30 pace.  A pretty good pace, considering how much time I’ve been stuck inside and how inconsistent my training has been; also the high point of my week.

On the iPod: The Siren has installed a shelf on the treadmill for our laptops.  I watched the first two episodes of Tin Man, a three-part SciFi miniseries adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, steampunk-style, which I’ve had on iTunes forever. On my long run today, I listened to I Should Be Writing #110 (interview with YA author Courtney Summers) and Escape Pod #187 (“Summer in Paris, Light from the Sky,” by Ken Scholes).  I was very happy and surprised to see the new Escape Pod show up in the feed, and I’m glad host Steve Eley is back.  He said in his closing comments that he has turned over business and production duties to others, to ensure that the show can continue even when he gets too busy with his day job or personal life, but selecting the stories will continue to be Steve’s sole responsibility; if “Summer in Paris” is representative of what he’s got in the pipeline for 2009, it’s going to be a very good year for Escape Pod.

That’s all I’ve got for the stats this week.  I’d like to end with a more cheerful note, because things are rarely as bad as they may seem, and really, things aren’t that bad.  So forget about the Yeats, and take a look at this:

Love the Weather, Hate the Cable Company.

Just a quick post while we temporarily have functioning internet access.  Chicago is enjoying 50+ weather this weekend, which is great in every way except that it is killing our internet access.  When Comcast ran the line from the pole to the house back in 2002, they connected it wrong at the pole — with a vertical connection instead of horizontal.  I can’t quite see what they’re talking about, but vertical means that rain and melting snow run into the

*** wait, it’s down again ***

Okay, I’m back.  Water runs into the connection box because they installed it wrong more than six years ago.  We’ve had innumerable service calls, they know what the problem is, but they’ve never fixed it.  Today, the Siren called and got someone nice, competent, apologetic, and (this is key) didn’t assume that the Siren was an idiot.  Since he actually believed she knew what she was talking about, she was spared all the usual nonsense (“Turn everything off, sit in the dark for an hour, then turn it back on and call us back!”) and he scheduled a “line cut.”  This means that Comcast will send someone out next week to disconnect the line and start over, this time connecting it to the pole the right way, which should solve the problem.

Then he suggested we sign up for their phone service, since we already have TV and internet.  The Siren is a much nicer person than I am, and didn’t laugh.

If I can’t post my Sunday Stats tomorrow, you’ll know why.