Monday, October 15, 2018

The end draws ever closer

When I left off my manuscript yesterday evening, I was on page 365, just shy of 110,000 words. On the pages I printed out to help me with my revision, I'm on page 386, exactly 40 pages from THE END. There are two pages or so out of those last forty that have already been incorporated into an earlier part of the revised manuscript, so I'm really more like 38 pages from the end.

This is the tough part, though. Yesterday, I only squeaked out 900 words or so, some of which was the result of backing up ten or so pages and futzing around a little. I thought said futzing would cut words, but it might have actually added. So be it. The end result was that yesterday was a little like treading water. My main character stands at the final inflection point of the story, the point where she makes her final major decision and goes from down and out to triumphant.

There are, I think, two reasons for my treading water. The first is losing the rhythm. Because I've been obsessively tracking this, I know that from Sunday through Wednesday last week, I cranked out 11,600 words, an average of nearly 3,000 per day. I was in the groove. On Thursday, however, it all came apart. We had a board of directors meeting that night. It lasted four hours. Ugh. On Friday, my wife and I went to our Audubon Society's charter dinner (my wife is co-president of the chapter). We stopped out for a drink after and didn't get home until after 10. On Saturday, I worked in the morning, watched the Bruins rout the Red Wings in the afternoon--and just didn't feel up for writing that night. While I recognize that the so-called Writing Rule "Write every day" is not for everyone, I know I'm better when I do.

The other thing that slowed me down, however, is because of that inflection point I mentioned above. This is the last such point in the story, and arguably the most important: this is the point where everything really comes together. The character must now stand on the foundation I've built for her through the course of the story, and that foundation has to be rock solid, or there will be no future readers for this manuscript aside from a couple of more betas and some agents who ultimately pass. It's scary stuff, and what makes it scarier is this: any changes I make to this point could potentially reverberate back through the entire story, sending me on a search-and-destroy mission throughout the manuscript. It's almost like being a time traveler setting out to find some evil-doer (or someone who is well-meaning but doesn't understand you don't mess with time!) who grabbed a time machine and fucked around in the past.

Writing with the story ahead of you is easy. Keeping the continuity during the rewrite stage? That's a lot harder. How do you do it?


I've had Pete Yorn on here once before. Here he is with Scarlett Johansson (yes, that Scarlett Johansson, how many do you think there are?). I think their voices work well together, don't you?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Reading List, 2018, Part III

Technically, the end of the quarter was last week, but I chose to delay this post based on events in the world. Here are the list of books for the third quarter (July 1-September 30).

Wolf Season (2017), Helen Benedict. Not bad. Local(ish) setting was familiar.

The Outsider (2018), Stephen King. I love Stephen King. I like long books. But this felt way too long.

The Marrow Thieves (2017), Cherie Dimaline. I like when Young Adult novels don't feel like Young Adult novels.  This is one of them.

Catch-22 (1955), Joseph Heller. Re-read, but it's been so long since I've read it, it felt new. Feels like we're living in Yossarian's world right now, only not as funny.

Exit West (2017), Mohsin Hamid. Lovely and poignant tale of a refugee couple escaping their war-torn country though magical doors that send other places in this world.

Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America (2018), Alissa Quart. We have problems in this country.

Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change (2018), Mary Beth Pfeiffer. We have problems in this world.

The list was short this quarter. The last two books slowed me down quite a bit. Plus, I've been writing/revising a lot, which slows down my reading. Plus, hockey season started, which will slow me down even more. I'm a bit surprised at how new my list was for this quarter. Though I've been making an effort to read current, all of the books save Catch-22 were published within the last two years. Not bad!

Other news:

* Passed the 100,000 word point on my WiP this weekend while cranking through just about 7000 words Friday (took the day off) through Sunday. That includes a thoroughly non-productive Saturday (less than 500 words), where I sat staring at the screen and the printed pages I was working off of and just couldn't figure out how my main character was supposed to make a particular transition. I think I got it! It looks like, when I'm finished, I will have managed to cut nearly 30 pages from the previous draft.

* Is it you, or me? For some time, I uses to get e-mail notifications when most people left a comment on this blog (with one or two exceptions). Not anymore, and not for some time. As far as I can tell, my settings haven't changed, but no more notifications. Anyone else see this happening?

* Congratulations to the lovable scamps at Delta House for the achievement of Brother Bart. Now they have a Supreme Court Justice to go along with Senator Blutarsky.

* Hockey season is on! The Bruins got shellacked in their season opener, but righted the ship the next night. I'm hoping they can pile up points against weak teams like Buffalo, Ottawa and Edmonton while they work out the kinks on the season.

* John Oliver did a piece on the Brazilian elections last night on Last Week Tonight. Can anyone tell me why the world is shifting so much in favor of hatred and intolerance? Let's hope it doesn't take another world war to put a stop to it.

That's it for me, what's new with you?

Monday, October 1, 2018

Another year, another post like this

I may have told you this story before. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, I'm not sure what it is about this time of year that seems to bring this sort of thing out. Last year around now, I was writing about Harvey Weinstein. The year before that, Donald Trump and locker room talk. Maybe it's something in the change of seasons that brings this all about, I don't know. At any rate, the stuff going on now serves to remind me of this.

For nearly the entire decade of the nineties, I worked for the Central Park Conservancy, a great organization that works with the City of New York to manage and protect and promote that fantastic greensward in the heart of New York City. For all of those years, I commuted to work, a journey that involved a minimum 40-minute train ride and two subway lines, but it was a good job with a good organization in a great location, and I've always liked trains so I tolerated it for quite a while.

Two of the years I worked in Central Park, we lived in southern Connecticut. Metro North took me all the way down to Grand Central. From there, I had to take the Lexington Avenue subway back uptown to 103rd Street (my office was just outside the Park at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue). It seemed a bit of a waste, going all the way down to Grand Central just to have to come back up, and the Lexington Avenue line at that point sucked, to put it honestly, so I looked for--and found--an alternative: get off Metro North at 125th Street and walk 21 blocks to my office. And so I did.

I don't remember how I got to and from the station, to be honest. I think I got off at 125th Street, cut over to Madison, and went all the way down Madison to 104th, and vice versa, but I honestly couldn't tell you after all this time. When I walked (and in the winter, I did not do the walk if it was dark), I walked with purpose, fast but not running. I kept my head up and my eyes moving, but also tried not to attract attention. It was a little unnerving. Mine was pretty much the only white face on the street there, and the route took me through just about every kind of neighborhood: bustling commercial sections, upscale homes, bombed-out crack houses (it was the nineties, after all). It seemed quite possible that I could get mugged for money to fuel someone's crack habit, or mugged--even killed--simply for being the wrong race in the wrong neighborhood. Not once, however, did it ever enter my mind that I might be dragged off into an alley or wrecked building and sexually assaulted.

The allegations against Brett Kavanaugh that surfaced last month have once again served to highlight the vastly different worlds men and women live in. When do men worry about being sexually assaulted? Never. For men of my generation, it's a "Dueling Banjos" reference when we go camping or find ourselves in some backwoods area. Maybe younger men joke about pawn shops and the Gimp. But that's what it is for men: a joke, something to laugh about. When do women worry about being sexually assaulted? All the time? Half the time? From the stories that have once again been shared in the wake of the Kavanaugh accusations, they'd certainly be forgiven for worrying about it all the time. It happens too damn often, and that's got to change.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Why did I bother?

I knew better.

I knew better, and I did it anyway.

Last week, a Facebook friend of a very conservative nature posted a graphic on Facebook. Unlike his usual postings, it wasn't even a share, it was a graphic he'd come across, downloaded, then posted. It was about Christine Blasey Ford.

If you do not know who Christine Blasey Ford is, look her up. Suffice to say, the graphic posted was not particularly complimentary, calling her an alcoholic, promiscuous and, possibly worst of all, a liberal activist. It then suggested that not only was her coming forward a desperate attempt to keep a conservative off the Supreme Court, but that Dr. Blasey Ford was looking for a book deal.

If they were making The Princess Bride today (heck, the way Hollywood is, they probably are), Vizzini might declare that the most famous blunder of all is "never get involved in a political discussion on Facebook." It's almost always a no-win situation for all. Most people have no interest in actual, informed debate about politics on Facebook. Most people just want to stake their position and fly their flag as high as possible for all like-minded people to see, and to piss off those who don't agree. The first time I saw this, I clicked in the comment box and was poised to strike, then thought better of it. It bothered me to pass it by, but it was sensible.

But two days later, based on whatever algorithms Facebook uses, it was there again, floating to the top of my news feed even though I am constantly telling Facebook I want it to sort by most recent, not what Facebook thinks is a 'Top Story' (why I have to change this every. Single. Time. I get on Facebook is beyond me). This time, I couldn't hold back.

All I wanted was an acknowledgment. What acknowledgment? This one: Dr. Blasey Ford may well be all of those things this Facebook graphic depicts her as. An alcoholic. Promiscuous. A liberal activist. Sure, maybe she's even an opportunist, hoping to catapult herself to riches and fame (though, please see this excellent post by John Pavlovitz about that). Yet, none of that precludes the possibility that Brett Kavanaugh did exactly what she says he did. Unsurprisingly, I got no admission of the sort. Instead, I got (and am still getting) the usual litany of Republican talking points, victim blaming, and straw men. In other words, pretty much what I expected. At least I haven't gotten any personal attacks. Yet. I haven't checked Facebook this morning. Meanwhile, I swear I'll stay out of it next time...


Monday, September 17, 2018

What a mess I've made

Shortly after Agent Carrie and I parted ways earlier this year, I completed a draft (a sort of second draft, maybe something like a 1-1/2 draft) of a new manuscript I was quite excited about. The problem? It was big. 426 pages big. 138,000 words big. The biggest project I'd ever done.
Now, it turns out 138,000 words isn't necessarily terrible. The Return of the King is around 131,000, or so I have read. Salem's Lot is around 150,000 and sure doesn't feel that long. Of course, one of those books was written sixty years ago, the other forty, and we're told debut novelists can't get away with long books and that people don't want long books anyway (I call bullshit on both of those, but then maybe that's why my next published book will be my first). Anyway, I knew even before I got comments back from my Trusted Readers that it needed to be cut: there were lots of redundancies, lots of duplicate scenes, lots of saying the same thing in a slightly different way. And, of course, it had to get to the point faster.

Like this, only bigger!
Normally, when I'm ready to start redrafting, I sit down with notes from my Trusted Readers, my own notes, and a printed copy of my manuscript that looks like one of Sheriff Obie's 27 eight-by-ten color glossy photographs from "Alice's Restaurant." I open the last version of the manuscript on my computer, 'Save As' the project title and date (or the project title version xx) and go to work, deleting, adding, changing. It mostly works okay, though somewhere along the line the page numbers on the screen will stop matching up with the page numbers on the printed copy, which can cause a little bit of trouble. Also, I think it sometimes leads me to not paying attention to everything: if a sentence or paragraph has escaped my critical eye, why even look at it? It's perfect, right? Maybe not.

This time, I decided to do something different. I assembled my notes and the notes of my Trusted Readers, plunked the 426 paragraphs with the circles and arrows and margin notes and paragraphs on the back down on the desk, opened a blank document on my computer and started to type. The benefit is that it's forcing me to look at each line as I type, so everything's up for consideration, not just what's been marked up, and that's a good thing. It's not quite like starting all over again, but it does make things fresher, I think.

This weekend, I ran into big trouble, though I may have had the same problem if I'd done it 'the old way.' I had two scenes separated by thirty-odd pages in the manuscript that, while not exactly the same, needed to be condensed into one in order to move the story along faster. No problem, I managed the feat, the new version works--but then I found myself with my printed manuscript divided into four--or was it five?--piles: one on the floor that's finished. One that's stuff yet to come (pp. 325-426) and two--or was it three?--that I was currently working on. On the left, page 289. On the right, p. 252--what comes next? Oh, it doesn't help that the stuff from page 290 or so has now been moved up to page 180.

I sat at my desk for about fifteen minutes yesterday morning shuffling papers back and forth. "OK, this is done, I can put that down here--wait a minute, that's not done, that's staying in, so that" It got to the point where I sat there for about a minute looking at it all and almost saying, "Fuck it" for the day and going off to mow the lawn. Eventually, I did say "Fuck it" and just started working, and it went pretty well (3500 words yesterday, wowza). Still, it was fifteen minutes of stress that I didn't need. Hopefully, it's the last day of that sort of stress on this manuscript.

Writing, editing, revising: it's an ongoing process, one that's always in revision. Maybe next time I'll figure out a better system for organizing myself so I don't get lost.

What about you? How do you keep everything straight in the revision process?


Forty years ago this weekend, the Grateful Dead played a series of what might rightly be called "historic" concerts at a tiny little theater nestled almost at the base of the Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt. (I say historic because I believe they were the first rock band to play there, though others have followed). For three nights, the band played before a small crowd in the desert, and by all accounts, they had a blast. Said Jerry Garcia: "Egypt was great. We were terrible!" They hoped to pay for the trip by releasing a live album, but they were, indeed, terrible. Even at their best, the Dead were unpredictable. The wheels could fall off at any moment. Here's a song from their last night, probably the best of the run and, true to form, the wheels fell off. At least twice. Have a good week!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Today's Recommended Reading

I came across this powerful piece in The Guardian last week. It is disturbing to say the least that we are staring down the same things--rampant nationalism, racism, authoritarianism--that we faced eighty-plus years ago. It disturbs me even more that the USA has gotten caught up in the same reprehensible tide. I only hope it can be resolved this time without a global war.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Breaking Bad Revisited

Back in early August, I found myself home alone for an extended weekend, due to a work requirement that coincided with a family event. Sunday afternoon found me too physically tired to mow the lawn or do much around the house, and too brain dead to write or read; I reached for the TV remote instead--and soon found myself rewatching Breaking Bad.

I know a lot of people will say, "Why rewatch some TV show when there's so much good, new programming out there?" Indeed, there are only so many hours in a day, week, month, life; why spend it watching something you've already seen, especially something that takes so much time? (Breaking Bad ran for five seasons, 62 episodes, roughly 50 minutes per episode. I hate doing math that shows how much time I've spent on something, just as I hated looking at the "Time Played" counter on my World of Warcraft characters.)  Yet I regularly seek out the comfort of previous experience when choosing my television, film and reading material. Earlier this year, I finished a re-read of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, and I'm currently re-reading It for seemingly the thousandth time. There's a good bet that, some time in the next year or so, I'll pick up either A Prayer for Owen Meany or Empire Falls again, too, even though  there are literally thousands of books I haven't read before coming out each year. Often, I'll just grab something familiar off the shelf when I'm in between new books, though sometimes I just get a real strong urge to read an old book once more (It came about in part because we watched last year's movie version, which was actually pretty good).

As a writer, there's great benefit in following those familiar paths. Watching the first few episodes of Breaking Bad, however, I found myself really viewing Walter's and Jesse's actions against the context of what those characters become as the series goes on. It's especially fascinating to see the breadcrumbs being dropped by the showrunners. One of the central questions of the show was who is the true Walter White? The mild-mannered, bumbling high school chemistry teacher, or the ruthless Heisenberg? I don't think I started asking that question until more than halfway through the series on my first run through; now, I've been looking for it since episode one, watching for clues, and I think "Walter White" may have been the mask worn by "Heisenberg" for fifty years. By the end of season two, which is where I am now, that certainly seems to be more than a slim chance.

Interestingly, I find I interact differently with books when I re-read them than I do with movies or TV. I suspect it has to do with the difference in impact images make on your brain than words, or that reading engages the mind in a different way. I will sometimes pick up something as foreshadowing, or the first appearance of a motif in the work, but for me, re-reading a book is much more like reading it for the first time than watching TV or a movie.

How about you? Do you experience TV, movies and books differently the second (or third) time around? Do  tell!B