Monday, July 30, 2018

Off the map

I did something yesterday I hadn't done in two weeks. I wrote. And it felt good.

I've been working on revisions to my latest Mighty Tome, trying in particular to shorten and tighten the narrative, especially in the front end, and it was going pretty well. On July 12, I hit the hundred page mark--and there I sat. For two plus weeks.

Unlike revisions in the past, I decided this time to type the entire, 426-page manuscript over again into a new, blank document, using a heavily-marked printed version as my guide. It was going well, until I started leapfrogging. As an example of what I mean, a series of events that occurred in the Page 150 section of the previous draft are now occurring around page 100. Which is fine--this manuscript does need to be shorter, and it needs to be more urgent in the first half. The problem, though, and the reason I stopped writing, is that I found myself thinking, "Now what? What happens next?"

It's a bit like driving before GPS, when you had a navigator in the front seat with you trying to makes sense of the world using one of those Rand McNally or Hagstrom road maps in the spiral bind. "Turn left at Sycamore," your friend tells you. So you do. "What next?" you say, but now you're off the edge of the map and they're trying to turn to map 34 and find where you are. Or, in more modern terms, it's like somehow getting three steps ahead of your GPS. "In one thousand feet, turn left on Sycamore Street," says the GPS, but you're already on the interstate highway, and the next exit isn't for another forty miles.

In an effort to find my way, I printed out those hundred pages and read through them again (finding a lot of things to fix, damn it). Yesterday, I sat and wrote. It was only 1100 words, but it was a start, and I can see where I need to go next. I'm back on the map.

Do you ever get lost in revisions? How do you find your way back to where you need to be?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Monday Musing: Is this necessary?

Hey, folks, as of my usual post time I am, as we used to say in the days of World of Warcraft, AFK--Away From Keyboard. I'll be traveling home from a weekend away and will almost certainly not feel like posting when I get home. So, here's an actual advance post of things that caught my eye, either this past week, or some time in the not-so-distant past.

Thing One: Giant Jeff Goldblum statue in London.

Did you see this? It turned up last week. And all I can say is, "Why?"

I have to say, I do find it amusing how he seems to float in the air, like it's not just a giant Jeff Goldblum statue, but it's the ghost of a giant Jeff Goldblum statue. I suppose I shouldn't criticize. On Long Island, where I grew up, we have The Big Duck.

Thing Two: Do we need this level of specificity?

I may have posted this one another time, or I may be confusing this blog with my personal Facebook page. Isn't "Apple" the default flavor on Applesauce? Like, if it's not labeled, you just assume it's apple?

Thing Three: Escape hatch

One of my favorite features on newer cars. Just in case the mob tosses you in the trunk with the intent of putting you in a shallow grave somewhere upstate.

I especially like the way the person is jauntily running away from the car.

That's all for me for now. Have you ever seen things that don't seem strictly necessary?

Monday, July 16, 2018

Monday Musing: Overburdened, self-inflicted

This morning when I go to work, one of my tasks will be to complete my timesheet for the pay period that just ended. It's going to show a lot of extra time. This past week was a seven-day work week, which included a ten-hour day in the middle of it. So, I've been a little crispy around the edges lately.

I'm also contributing to my own burnout: on top of what was a 60+ hour work week, on Saturday night, after helping to put on a first-time, minor event, I rushed home, changed, and then my wife and I dashed out so we could volunteer for a local charity pouring beer at a concert. I may have written about this last summer: my organization was the charity at one such concert which meant organizing 60-70 volunteers. It's a heck of a lot of fun (and a good fundraiser: my organiztion made over two grand in approximately five hours), but it's exhausting. And then there's the MOOC, the Massive Open Online Course offered through the University of Iowa, which just started yesterday (slots still available, I believe). I did my required readings and discussion participation for the first unit already, and now have to write something.

Ah, writing. Yeah, about that. This week has been unbelievably bad for writing. After getting off to a rousing start on the revisions for my WiP, which included two 3000+ word days in late June and a massive 5600-word day on July 4 (here's to holidays!), this week has been a disaster. In the last five days, I've amassed a whopping total of 347 words, and those 347 came hard and grudgingly. My goal of having this one out on submission by the end of the summer is slipping away.

When we write our stories, the obstacles we force our heroes to overcome can be external or internal. External: my job is really busy this week--I have to work seven days and a night, so I have little time and I'm really, really tired at the end of the day. Internal: I can't say no, thus I overextend myself and leave myself more exhausted with less time to do things I want (or need) to do for myself. Like writing. And I end up crispy around the edges.

Other random thoughts for the week that was and is to be:

Best news all week was the rescue of the boys and their coach from that cave in Thailand. Outstanding work by the rescuers, and very sad to lose one of them in the rescue effort.

I'm not a big soccer guy, but congratulations to France on their World Cup victory.

I read the indictment. I'm really curious about the identities of a) "a candidate for US Congress"; b) "a then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news"; c) "a reporter"; d) a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump." I suspect more indictments are coming.

That's all I got; what's going on with you all?


Monday, July 9, 2018

A question on change

Yesterday, while towing a  trailer of canoes down the road to an invasive species removal event, I found myself listening to the program, Out of Bounds on NPR. On this particular show they were interviewing poet Michael Jennings, and talking with hm about his recently released chapbook, Summoning the Outlaws. Now, I missed a good part of the interview, spending a sizable chunk of time getting out of the truck to make sure the hitch was line up properly with the trailer, then getting the trailer hitched up, then walking around the trailer to make sure all the lights and turn signals worked, and triple-checking that half a dozen canoes weren't going to go flying off the back of the trailer while I'm trundling down the road (it's my worst nightmare; hasn't happened yet, knock wood).

Once everything was squared away and secure, I got to listen to the rest of the interview, which was pretty interesting. I'm not what you might call a big fan of poetry, but the poems Jennings read on air were good, and it's always interesting to listen to writers of any kind talk about their process. One question in particular caught my fancy.

How did writing this book change you?

As often happens when I listen to these sort of programs, I let my imagination run away a little. I wasn't listening to Michael Jennings whilst hauling a canoe trailer through the heart of the county on a Sunday morning; no, I was the one being asked the question after the publication of my latest, greatest book. How did writing this book change me?

First off, fantasy me did not answer that, as a newly-minted best seller, I was jetting around the world in my private jet and rubbing shoulders with all the biggest celebrities and bending the ears of heads of state--my fantasies don't typically run that way. It's enough to be published and to get interviewed on a radio show for me! Besides, that wasn't what the question was aiming at; it was more to the point of how writing the book changed Jennings'(my) world view.

For me, a book (and yeah, I know it's not technically a book until it's published, but I've still got one foot in fantasyland here, okay?) typically starts when something catches my attention. That something triggers a question, most typically one that starts with "What if...?" The possible answer to that question fires off all kinds of things in my brain and a story emerges, slowly (very slowly) but surely. At least in the case of this book, what caught my attention were the views of a certain billionaire presidential candidate and a certain sort-of in control political party. Seeing what was happening, listening to what was being said worked on my brain, and this story started to develop. In terms of the question being asked, it's not so much that I wrote this book, therefore I changed as much as it's I changed, therefore I wrote this book.

Now, in fairness, I think it's also true that writing this not-yet-a-book has changed me as well. At this point in time, I haven't been able to quantify any changes that have occurred as a result of writing this particular project. I suspect it will vary from project to project. Fortunately, fantasy interviewer was appropriately appreciative of my response and didn't press the point. Unfortunately, I didn't really get to hear what Michael Jennings said; I was too busy responding in my head (and keeping one eye on the mirror to make sure my trailer--and all my canoes--were still there).

What about you? Does writing change you, or do you change, then write? And, while we're at it, am I the only one who does fantasy interviews in my head?

Monday, July 2, 2018

Reading List, 2018 (Part II)

Hard to believe we're into July already, isn't it? Seems like just yesterday I was sitting here at my computer, likely with a blanket draped over my shoulders and posting Part I of this series. This morning I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt and it's comfortable, after the hottest night of the year so far.

Before getting into the list, I'll add that I've (finally) gotten around to actual rewrites on my latest project, the one that landed at about 138,000 words. I'm about 14,000 words/50 pages in right now, struggling with how to shorten the beginning without losing too much of importance. This is the job the phrase "Kill your darlings" was meant for.

One other note: on Saturday, I led a canoe trip for what turned out to be around 30 people (we had a veritable Spanish Armada out there) on what was until yesterday the hottest day of the year. Let me tell you, there is no feeling on this earth quite like sticking your feet over the sides of your canoe and into cool water on a hot day. It is heaven. On to the list!

All Our Wrong Todays (2017), Elan Mastai. After thirty pages with no dialogue I was almost ready to toss this one aside. I'm glad I stuck with it. Time travel by a screw-up, which screws things up.

Tool of War (2017), Paolo Bacigalup. I much preferred by The Windup Girl and The Water Knife. Entertaining and fast-paced, but not quite my thing.

The Heart Goes Last (2015), Margaret Atwood. Atwood's a great writer, and she explores some creepy directions society could go. Unfortunately, this one gets muddier the longer it goes.

Oops: Tales of a Sexpert (2018), Vivian Peters. This may be the most important book I've read this year. Long-time educator for Planned Parenthood relays her experiences working with teens in rural America. It's often funny, but not funny at all, if you know what I mean.

American War (2017), Omar El Akkad. Quote from the book, which seemed particularly appropriate given our times: "Nativism being a pyramid scheme, I found myself contemptuous of the refugees' presence in a city already overburdened. At the foot of the docks, we yelled at them to go home, even though we knew home to be a pestilence field. We carried signs calling them terrorists and criminals and we vandalized the homes that would take them in. It made me feel good to do it, it made me feel rooted; their unbelonging was proof of my belonging."

Flight Behavior (2012), Barbara Kingsolver. How is it I've never read Barbara Kingsolver before?

A Hologram for the King (2012), Dave Eggers. A man finds himself in an absurd situation in Saudi Arabia.

Summerlong (2015), Dean Bakopoulos. Don and Claire Lowry's marriage becomes a slow-motion car wreck. That description does not do this book justice.

Catskill (2001), John R. Hayes. This is easily the worst book I've read in a long time. Why did I read all of it? I hate to leave things unfinished.

Commonwealth (2016), Ann Patchett. A tale of a blended family (and not always well-blended, at that) that unfolds over fifty years. Very well done.

Ten books read this quarter, not bad! I suppose this is what happens a) once hockey season and and, b) when I was trying to avoid working on my own writing.

What about you? What have you been reading? Anything from on this list?