National Novel Writing Month was a huge personal success for me, and a big confidence booster. I will miss my silicone NaNoWriMo bracelet tomorrow.
By the numbers, 50,028 words, finished in the wee hours of November 27. On the twenty-three days I wrote, I averaged 2,175 words a day, due mainly to a big push in the first two weeks that had me writing close to 2,500 a day.
As a project, I reached the end of the draft narrative. I kept control of the pacing so I landed it roughly as I intended. It was an active effort, matching my word count to the outlines, planning scenes ahead in 500-word increments, fleshing out passages still short of their part of the total.
However measured, when I could write, I did, at speed and with some level of consistent craft throughout. I’m not sure I believed I could do it. I am glad to no longer have to rely on belief.
I don’t think I have universal advice, but for me it started well before November 1. Continue reading →
Yesterday I posted an excerpt from late in the novel, in part to entertain, but as I mentioned I also had another reason. I’m wondering if that passage should become the prologue for the novel. I’d like your opinion. Now to explain —
Not all novels start with a bang. Until the 20th century, most of them didn’t. The characters were introduced, sometimes at the end of a long parentage, and the action followed. A little foreshadowing, perhaps; a choice phrase to let people know what the stakes are, as in Pride and Prejudice‘s famous opening line; maybe a small gesture, like the bishop giving Jean Valjean his candlesticks or Pip helping Fagin go free, but one that will grow. Even in slender The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway gets a couple of pages to complain about his job before the bad parties start. Continue reading →
So, I am an old fart. I have always been one. By feel and intuition I cobbled myself a classical education in high school, reading Shakespeare long before it was assigned, learning mythology from academic dictionaries and old minor epics, studying Latin, using French. My love of punk music (old fart chronologically, too) and my knack for the tech and culture of computer networking (which got me hired at AOL way back before a phone could go in a pocket, much less go online) hid my mustiness pretty well, so long as I kept my vocabulary in check. But my way of being has a sense of the past about it. I live larger by living across time.
This is not the most comfortable perch when one has a new book to sell, when one tries on glittering adjectives to catch the eyes of agents. Continue reading →
Four months since I did any work worth the mention. Five days since my beloved dog T__ died, his death too sudden. He lived 13 years, long enough to see his work completed: my first novel, written and rewritten while his snoring bulk warmed my toes, finally finished; my firstborn son, born to the wife he found for me, now just old enough to remember him always.
We go on. But not comfortably.
I am a privileged man. I live well in a rich country, my few problems good ones to have. As a young man I made public light of our universal predicament, joking that I was an ephemeral being floating through life, leaving no vestige of my passing. In middle-age it is truer and less funny. I am the defiant cry of my parents, exiled by wars both hot and cold from the land of their birth. But I fear I am merely the echo that starts some avalanche. I want something more.
I want to write memorably but I don’t know who is looking for that.
Last year my friend A___ sent an excerpt of Rudy Rucker’s autobiography. Rucker in turn cites Camus to explain the depressing experience of writing as well as you can only to have no one notice. It is what I return to as motivation, a reminder that the world is hard to move. Continue reading →
Funny thing, WordPress doesn’t let me tag non-blog posts (the links in the header row), so without occasionally posting excerpts from my book, its potential readers can’t find me by searching. Every so often I’ll post a short excerpt here on the blog. To read the first two chapters, click here.
This is from the early pages. In the midst of a downsizing Zarabeth has found a new job, and, to her surprise, a path to the supernatural.
On Friday half the cubicles outside Zarabeth’s office were empty and dark. The remaining people slouched at their small desks. She felt as if she faced a dog licking a deep wound, clammy feel of sepsis in the hot air. Pathetic. She would take a brick to it.
Her new boss Magda’s admin had forwarded a twenty-page report about satellites, a third redacted with thick black marker. It looked military or spook, above her own nerd rating.
Wanda knocked, holding a thick plastic-film envelope. “This just came by messenger.” Wanda stood there, impressed and curious.
“Thanks. Go away. Close the door.”
Inside the envelope were new business cards, employment documents, a ticket to London (tomorrow night, business class), also a jewelry box and a black parchment envelope. Continue reading →
The Coevas are a group of Italian writers and musicians — they call themselves a “band literature,” and that’s how they write, as a group under a single name — who spin crazed sexual dreamy prose like William Burroughs cutting up Jean Rhys channeling Orpheus.
I need to get more of my own novel excerpts up so they can see how much we have in common — except for prose itself since I write nothing like them — but, angry women, mythic creatures, desperation, and Italy: we’re like twins separated at birth. They even blog-rolled Szymborska’s “Woman’s Portrait,” a poem my mother loved so much she took it on herself to translate it for me before she died.
Also I shout because they are my best online marketing class — they were the first writers to find my site and follow it, and it looks like that’s how they’re getting their word out, talking to one kindred spirit at a time. For a long time the Internet was the information superhighway, with all of us locked in our own subcompacts trundling along listening to crappy DJs and bad commercials. Now it’s a train station cum block-party for us bloggers, and The Coevas pointed the way for me. Thanks!
Hi Coevas! Rock on.
I am taking a class on revising manuscript from Kathryn Johnson, a novelist and writing mentor. Unlike other workshops there is no group critique and little discussion. Johnson has read pages from each of us but it’s about helping us do it ourselves.
She holds us to account at the start of each class on how much work we did. She talks about writing in the abstract, mixing example and anecdote. It’s a Buddhist form of instruction, like a yoga teacher’s suggestions for meditation. Discourses on wordiness, poor writing, fuzzy characters, unhelpful explanations. She raises points gently because they are powerful. Using her techniques I am losing an average of 11% words with no loss of art. (I keep totals on a spreadsheet).
With practice I am getting better at liposuction. Words kink and clog in consistent ways. Now I find their knots faster and correct them semi-automatically. I can probably wring a couple more percent out of the start.
The numbers provide concrete evidence as a tonic to the humbling process. I was sad and cranky about it for a while but I have begun to get over myself. It helps to think of the initial pages as a wall supported by scaffolding. Eventually the wall is strong itself and connected with other walls. What was needed to hold it up may be confidently discarded.
Last week Johnson suggested I break the chapters up and interleave them, alternating my characters every thousand words instead of every ten thousand. (1000 words ~ 4 pages)
It’s an exciting idea but demanding this late in the process. I don’t think the entire book need be interleaved – there are times when the drama will improve by spending a few thousand words in the same setting – but in spots it could free the book. What I thought was spine may have only been a brace.