Tag Archives: Meet the Larssons

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

I just cut about a thousand words from Meet the Larssons, because I realized that I did something to one of the main characters that either I shouldn’t have done, or shouldn’t have done yet. So I moved the original versions of the last two chapters I’d written (Chapters 23 and 24) into the Research folder of my Scrivener project file, and copied them back to salvage what I can (which, thankfully, is most of Chapter 23 and about half of Chapter 24). It’s not that I like going backwards, but it could have been much worse.

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Random Thursday Update

It’s been heating up at The Firm lately, which is one of the reasons I haven’t been posting as frequently. People get sued, people need suing (“Why’d you do it?” “He needed suin’.”), one of the senior partners gets hired, and eventually I get a phone call and my blogging dries up for a bit. This is just a quick update to kickstart my blogging muscles.

I’ve also been trying to make some progress on Meet the Larssons, which I put aside a few weeks ago in the push to finish the first draft of “Test Tube Beneficiary” and then get through the revisions. I’m back into it now, though, and I think it’s coming along. I’m going to have to change the name of the family at the center of the book though — I only noticed it recently, but one character, Astrid Larsson, has the same name as one of the main characters in S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse Trilogy. There’s no similarity between MTL and Mr. Stirling’s books, but it’s an easy enough change for me to make (hit REPLACE ALL and we’re done!). As a working title, though, I think I’ll leave it as Meet the Larssons, at least for now. It’s past 65,000 words, and I think I’m on track to meet my goal of finishing the first draft by the end of June. That will depend on how crazy things get at the office.

As for TTB, after three passes through it (two hand markups on paper, then one more set of revisions as I typed in the first two), I managed to cut a whopping 110 words, net — I cut a lot more than that, and but I added enough that it was effectively a wash. Between Passover and other commitments, I haven’t been able to get it into final shape to submit, but I expect to get that done in the next week or two. I accomplished Step One, buy more printer paper, on Monday

That’s enough for now. My blogging muscles are all wobbly. I’ll try to think of something interesting to say for tomorrow.

And Now For Something Completely Different: Insomnia.

I have never had any trouble falling asleep. I see television commercials for Lunesta or Ambien, and they don’t make any sense to me at all. I’ve been practicing law for 13 years, and a handful of times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and stressed out about something, but I can’t remember the last time I got into bed and simply lay there, unable to fall asleep. Normally, the amount of time it takes me to fall asleep is immeasurably short; a “long time” is five minutes. (One exception: I often have trouble falling asleep in hotel rooms, for a variety of reasons that boil down to being uncomfortable. Special case.)

All of this is to underline how unusual it was last night, more than half an hour after Mrs. Unfocused and I turned out the lights, for me to still be wide awake. I wasn’t panicking about anything, or stressed out. I was physically wiped out from chasing Unfocused Girl on her bike and Unfocused Junior on his scooter up and down the block all afternoon, and had nodded off on the sofa before coming up to bed. I had no good explanation for why I couldn’t sleep. We had gone to sleep a little earlier than usual, but not by much, and considering how tired I was, it shouldn’t have been a problem.

Finally, I slipped out of bed and went downstairs. I spent an hour on the novel, which I had ignored all weekend while my father was in town and we were out enjoying the weather. After about 800 words, I went back upstairs, and fell asleep within a couple of minutes. This morning, I’m exhausted, but at least I have something to show for it.

I’m hoping this was a one-time problem, and not the beginning of a serious problem, where I can’t sleep if I don’t write. There are going to be plenty of days when I’m too busy to work on the novel, and I can’t afford to kill a night’s sleep every time that happens. I’d try warm milk, but I’m lactose intolerant. Maybe next time, I’ll just take a Benadryl.

50K.

I just passed a milestone on Meet the Larssons: 50,000 words (50,083 as of 10:24pm CDT, to be exact). It’s a long way from done, but it’s moving along nicely. I have the word meter set for 100,000 as my target, and that’s probably right for the first draft. I expect to cut some of that in revision — maybe 10,000 words — not to make it shorter but because I’ve either overwritten some of the technical details (what we refer to at the firm as “lawyer stuff,” or would, if we weren’t charging for it) or just to tighten up the prose. I also expect to have to write additional scenes or partial scenes, so it may all net out even in the end.

My target when I’ve finally crunched through the editing process is somewhere between 90,000 and 110,000 words, which should be enough to tell the story without channeling James Michener (I should be so lucky). By no coincidence, this seems to be the range that editors and agents are looking for from a first-time novelist (at least according to Editorial Ass and Nathan Bransford; I also noticed that it’s what Scalzi hit with Zoe’s Tale).

Fifty thousand words is not just the halfway point for my target word count for MTL; it is also the target word count for NaNoWriMo, which I plan to use to hack through as much as I can of my second novel in November. Apparently, all I need to be able to do in November is knock out an average of three times as many words on the novel each day as I have managed for MTL.

No problem.

Cheese, Gromit! Cheese!

Animal behaviorists know that if you don’t reward the mouse for getting through the maze, he won’t be so keen to scurry as quickly the next time. Along the same lines, I think I’ve already mentioned that one of the things I find most difficult about writing the novel is that there is no feedback at all. Blog posts get hits and comments, flash fiction is complete in a weekend and receives almost instantaneous reaction, even a short story can be completed in a reasonable period of time.

I’ve been writing Meet the Larssons since January 2, and until Thursday night, no other human had ever seen a word of it. I wrote 1700 words while on a plane on Thursday evening, a complete scene. I wasn’t entirely happy with the scene, but I didn’t think it was miserable dreck, either. I got home just in time to say goodnight to the kids before they went to bed, then had a couple of glasses of wine with the Mrs. The wine must’ve hit me hard, because I offered to show her the scene I’d completed on the plane, unedited. She accepted.

No fireworks, no belly laughs. It wasn’t a fireworks or belly laugh scene, just two people who don’t know each other well having a conversation in a bar, but the lack of any visible reaction made me crazy. I pestered her a couple of times until she told me to be quiet. Finally — FINALLY! — she finished. She said it was pretty good, but obviously rough, and some of the technical explanations could probably be cut, but without having read the previous 210 pages or so, it was hard to be sure. Not, in other words, a pile of miserable dreck. Then she read one screen’s worth of text from a previous chapter over my shoulder (I was checking something several chapters back), and she said she liked that even better. Go figure.

The important thing is that I got my cheese. I’m not completely wasting my time. I’ll get back in the maze now, and I’ll scurry as fast as I can, and I’ll twitch my nose the whole way.

New Beginning

As I predicted, I have had almost no time to work on Meet the Larssons this weekend. I did spend a few minutes blog-surfing last night, though, and spotted Arachne Jericho’s post recommending Storytellers Unplugged, which is a group blog by an interesting collection of writers, editors, booksellers, and other publishing professionals about writing and the business of writing and publishing. It’s good stuff, which you should be reading if writing fiction is the monkey on your back.

In particular, this post, by author Joe Nassise, prompted me to write a completely new opening to Meet the Larssons, which I did just before I went to bed. It’s much, much better than the original opening chapter, which I never liked. So that’s a relief.

Response to Weekend Assignment # 203: Road Trip!

This week, work grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and gave me a good, hard shake. Now that the week is over and the long, President’s Day weekend has finally arrived, I’ve got documents to crunch through this weekend on three different cases before Tuesday. I had intended to take a couple of days off from blogging to work on the novel. Instead, I’ve written a whopping 704 words since Sunday night. Yippee. I’d like to get 2500 words written by Monday night, to take my word count up to 35K, but I think that’s unlikely.

What I need, of course, is a ROAD TRIP. The kind where you get in the car with your significant other or your buds, throw a backpack in the trunk, and just drive. These days, our road trips are a little more planning-intensive, requiring car seats, DVDs, CDs, laptops, chargers, toys, books, markers, etc., etc. They’re still great, just slightly less spontaneous.

This week, Karen over at Outpost Mavarin has given us the freedom to go on any road trip we want, so long as it’s a driving trip. If we could take the time, where would I drag my Unfocused Family? I’m assuming that this is supposed to be a three-day weekend kind of trip, not a two-week, Brady Bunch-style, driving trip to the Grand Canyon. But that still leaves a lot of territory to potentially cover. Milwaukee? Great museums and public garden, I love the brewery tours, and it is home to my favorite bar in the entire world. Cleveland? I’ve never been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so that might be fun, and educational for the kids. St. Louis? I guess we could see the Gateway Arch, but I used to have a number of cases in and around St. Louis, and I never really warmed up to the town. Bad memories, I guess. Springfield? Detroit?

Any of those would be real possibilities, but if you handed me a three-day pass for the trip, I’d really like to take the Unfocused Family to Louisville, Kentucky. Shortly after we graduated from college, Mrs. Unfocused (then the Unfocused Girlfriend) and I took a trip to Louisville for a few days. We were going through a bit of a rough patch, as unemployed recent college grads can, and decided that a weekend away together was what we needed. Unfortunately, neither of us knew how to drive, so it had to be somewhere we could get to relatively quickly by train or bus (since we also did not have enough money for plane tickets).

We worked off of an old copy of Let’s Go America, and finally decided on Louisville. We took an overnight Greyhound bus (an experience in itself, which I would not care to repeat), and spent a wonderful few days seeing Louisville on foot and by bus.  If were to go back, this time with our own car and the kids, I’m not sure what we would do differently.  We would take them to Churchill Downs, and Colonel Sanders’s grave, and whatever else there is to see, like this, but best of all would be the chance for Mrs. Unfocused and me to revisit the place where, 17 years ago, we decided we had to make things work, and set the foundation our marriage four years later.  And to get another Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby mint julep glass to replace the one Unfocused Junior broke a couple of years ago.

That’s enough lollygagging for me.  I’ve got work to do, the Family Tae Kwon Do class (if no one’s sick this week) and then maybe a little time for Meet the Larssons. Have a good, long weekend, and if you haven’t yet, don’t forget to check out the February Blog Chain.

February Blog Chain Entry: On Balance

This is my entry for the February Blog Chain. Our theme is BALANCE, and each blogger in the chain will incorporate into his or entry an element from the previous blog post in the chain. I’m first this time.

I’ve been practicing law for almost 13 years now, and by last year, I had allowed all of my other interests to fall by the wayside. We dropped our theater subscription when Junior (our second child) was born, and around the same time I dropped off the board of the small theater company I had been involved with. I haven’t taken a French class since 1997. By the fall of 2006, I had even stopped watching television. When Mrs. Unfocused had trouble sleeping, I would tell her about my day. I had conversations at parties and bored myself.

Great — now I sound like Rodney Dangerfield.

The point is, I had gotten into a mental rut. During the week, I went to work, came home, had dinner with the family if I got home early enough, helped put the kids to bed, then worked for another three hours. I might go for a run or go to the gym, but that was about it. Finally, I got to the end of the year and found that I had the luxury of taking some time at home; I would still have to work a few hours each day, but I could manage it so that I wouldn’t have to come in at all.

I took the opportunity, and in that time I started this blog. It was partly the result of a November visit from an old college friend, who suggested that the Mrs. and I start a blog together (we’re still talking about a joint blog, but she has had other projects on her mind), partly the Mrs. telling me to just go ahead and do it, and partly my own attempt to start writing again for pleasure. I needed to engage the creative part of my brain again, if only to convince myself that I was not as dull as I was beginning to think I was.

Creating the blog was relatively easy, and I found that I was perfectly happy to blather on ad nauseum. Lucky you, reader. More importantly, I felt the beginning of that balance I had been looking for, between solving other people’s problems at work and thinking through situations on my own, for no better reason than that I found them interesting.

Then on January 2, after my first day back at work since before Christmas, over a glass of wine with Mrs. Unfocused after the kids had gone to bed, I rattled off a complete synopsis of Meet the Larssons. I started knocking out some notes on the computer, and ending up spending the next several hours writing down the idea, ending up with four or five pages of typed notes and a hand-drawn organizational chart for the structure of the business discussed in the novel.

Since then, I have let the novel and the blog take over whatever free mental space I had. For a while, it was the novel. For the last week or two, the honeymoon has been over for the novel (I’m not done yet? What the hell!), and I’m more obsessed with the blog: how many hits today? any new comments? why is my Technorati authority stuck at 4? I’m sleeping less than I was when all I did was work, because when it was just work, I wanted to put it down and go to sleep. Now, it takes a real effort of will to close the laptop.

As I write this, I can see why it is so easy to get sucked in by the blog, and comparatively hard to work on the novel. It isn’t that the novel is harder to write; on the contrary, the novel is much easier to write than these blog posts. I know where the novel is going and largely how to get there; on the blog, it’s a different topic every day, and most of the time I have no idea what I’m going to write about until I sit down and start typing. No, the reason why the blog is so hard to resist and the novel is so easy to put down is that there is no feedback on the novel. I keep checking my word count (I hit 30K on Friday, on the train home from work) and updating it on the little graphic on the sidebar, because that’s the only way I have to keep score, and frankly, it’s pretty damn unsatisfying. With the blog, I have page views. Comments. Mrs. Unfocused even reads it, and I can ask her to give me comments on posts before I publish them, which is handy. But I would be uncomfortable showing anyone the incomplete pile of mush that Meet the Larssons is now. So there’s no feedback, no reward. My little lizard brain likes rewards, and it doesn’t think very far ahead. Maybe I need to promise myself a new toy when I hit 50K words, just to give myself something to work towards.

Don’t get me wrong: between the blogging and the novel, as well as the time I’ve taken just to spend with the Mrs. and the Unfocused offspring, the last seven weeks have been terrific. I’m going to spend a little less time on the blog this week in order to spend more time on the novel, but I doubt I’ll get any more sleep. And I’ll still keep checking those page views and comments, just to keep score.

Up next in the chain is Auria Cortes; remember to check out her blog over the next few days to see what she makes of this topic.

My Last Rejection Slips (so far)

This is the last in a series of three posts, discussing rejections I received from science fiction magazines years ago for stories I wrote in high school and college. My prior posts are here and here.

My most recent rejection slips are also in the file, both from Aboriginal Science Fiction. I didn’t make notes on these, and I didn’t save a copy of my cover letters, so I can only estimate when these stories were submitted and rejected. Based on the address I used on the cover sheet, I would have written these stories during my senior year of college or the year after, between October, 1990 and June, 1992. I wrote these stories (“Return of the Chicago Tribune” and “Encounter in a Bar”) on my first real computer, a Mac SE with 1Mb RAM and a 20Mb hard drive. I printed them either at the University’s main computer center or at Kinko’s — I didn’t own a printer at that point — which means I saved it onto a floppy disk and walked the disk over to USite or Kinko’s, probably late at night. Here are the rejections (the first is for “Return of the Chicago Tribune”):

abo1b


Just following the checked off categories of badness, “Return of the Chicago Tribune” was too expository (I told, instead of showing), the characters weren’t alive and/or were too bland, and the plot wasn’t strong enough. I flipped through the ms, and I agree with all of those. Plus, the whole idea (involving the 1948 Chicago Tribune edition with the “Dewey Beats Truman” headline) was pretty bad. At least by the time I wrote this story (age 21 or 22), I had started to gain some historical perspective; after three or four years of college, I had learned something, which I think must be helpful even for fiction writers — you can’t make up everything.

The next one is for “Encounter in a Bar,” which I wrote around the same time:

abo2b

“Encounter in a Bar” had all of the same problems as “Return of the Chicago Tribune,” according to the editor who rejected it, and one more: the underlying idea had been used so often as to have become a cliche. At least it was a different cliche than the one that made up the plot of my first attempt at publication, “The Laws of Chaos.” I didn’t have to read “Encounter in a Bar” to remember the plot; it all came back to me as soon as I saw the title. I am happy to share it with you, because this blog is anonymous: the main character is in a bar, meets a guy, who puts to him the time traveler’s classic dilemma — if you could go back in time and kill Hitler, preventing the Holocaust and World War II, would you? The main character says of course, and the other guy pulls out a gun and blows him away, because it turns out that he actually is a time traveler, and the main character would, in a few years, get elected president and start a horrible global thermonuclear war. The end.

Like the idea? It’s yours. I’d tell you not to submit it to Aboriginal Science Fiction, but it’s gone now. Wikipedia describes it (at least today) as “a high-circulation semi-professional science fiction magazine,” and that it ran from 1986 through 2001, which is consistent with what I remember. Whatever the former editor, Charles C. Ryan, is doing now, I owe him a debt of gratitude. The checklist may come off as a little impersonal, but the guy took the time to handwrite my name at the top, check the boxes he thought applied to my story, and sign his own name at the bottom. Even if he just had an intern do it, I had no idea; it just meant a lot to me at the time that someone in the business was giving me real feedback.

I have a lot of trouble remembering the process of writing from that far back; was it easy? was it hard? did the ideas flow, or was every paragraph like pulling teeth? I have no idea. Based on the brevity of the stories, it looks like my main concern was getting out of the chair as quickly as I could.

What I do know just from looking at the hard copies is that in just those 5-7 years from “The Laws of Chaos” to “Encounter in a Bar,” the speed at which I could have been writing would have changed significantly, because once I moved to the Mac, I didn’t have to load up a new piece of paper every 300 words. The physical process of writing, if nothing else, had become much simpler.

So why did I stop? I didn’t, entirely. I also found, stuck in the same file with all of my rejected science fiction stories, the never-completed draft of my first attempt at a novel. It was a coming of age story set, unsurprisingly, in Hyde Park, with a first person main character who had just graduated from college and couldn’t find a job — strikingly similar to my own situation at the moment I started the novel, except that to add to the main character’s misery, he didn’t have a girlfriend, while I was living with the future Mrs. Unfocused in a little basement apartment an easy walk from the lake. I stopped writing science fiction stories because I thought I should be working on the novel, and I stopped writing the novel because I was so undisciplined that by the time I got 75 pages into it, I had finished my first year of law school and the story of this lazy, self-pitying kid no longer interested me.

I’ll end this series of posts in the next couple of days with some thoughts about what I’ve learned from this little trip down memory lane.

In the meantime, I made good progress yesterday in Meet the Larssons, 2450 words. I’ve brought my MacBook on the train the last couple of days, which has let me write around 450 words each day just during my commute (I have a short train ride, and don’t always get a seat in the morning), which has been helpful, too. I took advantage of the warm weather this morning and went for my first outdoor run in weeks — it was gray, and the sun wasn’t entirely up yet, but still, it was great. All in all, a pretty good couple of days.

Now it’s back to the election coverage. Unfocused Girl is rooting for Hillary, but will be happy enough if Barack does well, since he’s from Chicago, too. Junior doesn’t have an opinion, except that he likes to say “Baaaaa-rock.”

25K! Are we there yet?

I wrote approximately 900 words on the plane home tonight, which I just imported into Scrivener and which, apparently, pushed me over the 25,000 word mark to 25,091. I’d like to thank the pilot and co-pilot for a smooth ride, and my seatmate, who moved into another row even before the plane took over. If this were NaNoWriMo, I’d be halfway done by now, but Meet the Larssons will clearly be more than 50,000 words. I’m using 100,000 as my word count goal in the little progress bar widget on the sidebar, but of course I have no idea how long the thing is going to be.

I haven’t run a step in almost a week (not counting a sprint through the terminal to catch my plane tonight), and I can feel the lack of exercise. My mileage was way down last week, and is at zero for this week.

I keep tracking my word count on the book because like my weekly mileage for running, it’s the only metric I’ve got. I’m not far enough along in the storyline to be able to measure against the distance to the finish.