Monday, July 30, 2007

An update, at last

Most of you (I think) by now know I spent last week in Minneapolis at a professional conference for that "other thing" I do, i.e., my day job. Though the 49th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine was interesting and educational, it put a serious damper on my writing progress.

The plan was brilliant: DH and Baby Boy were staying home, due to the high cost of airline tickets and the lack of anything for them to do while I was at the conference. My mom volunteered to come, as we enjoy traveling together and it was a chance for her to get away from home and veg for a week. As long as the hotel had a pool/hot tub and cable (it did) she was good. And *I* knew that my mom usually crashed by 9 pm, being the "early to bed, early to rise" type.

So I was banking on a week of going to meetings, spending a nominal amount of time with my mom in the evenings, and then having the nights free to write with no distractions.

Except, on vacation, my mom stays up till 11 pm or later and wants to watch TV all the time. Makes it hard to write, especially when the table the laptop is on is only 10 feet away from the television. *sigh* Don't get me wrong - we had fun. I just didn't get any writing done. Sven is not happy.

On top of that, I just really wasn't happy with chapters 7 and 8 as they were. Too pat, too little tension...if my interest was flagging, knowing all the stuff that's coming up, how could I expect a reader to press on? So after a lot of internal debate and brainstorming, I tossed them. That's 5K, folks. A third of my monthly goal. Ouch.

The good news is, I worked out an idea for a new chapter 7 that ramps up the tension and makes Elspeth's introduction to the clan a little (okay, a lot) rockier. And I'm almost done with it. But after all that writing, I'm only 300 words beyond where my counter was a week ago.

So I'm revising my end-of-month goals somewhat. I originally wanted to be at 65K by tomorrow. As far as having written 15K in a month...including the tossed wordage would actually make that doable. But I'm looking at real progress on the story here, so no dice. I want 65K in MS form.

It would be impossible for me to write 6K in the next 24 hours, even if I took the entire day off and holed up in the library or Panera or wherever. So I'm giving myself to the end of the week to try and pull it off. That's 2 extra days, and I'll need about 2K per day. We'll see.

Friday I'm having (all 4 of) my wisdom teeth out. I'll be spending most of the day sleeping, which will serve the dual purposes of helping me recover from the surgery and this massive make-up push. Knowing that's coming will help me press on in the interim.

Having said that, though, I also know when I've reached the point of diminishing returns. Which is now. So rather than keep myself up for another 2 hours to get maybe a couple hundred more words (I've already managed over 1000 today, so I'm not slacking!), I'm going to bed so as to be refreshed and productive tomorrow.

Oidhche mhath.

P.S. - Less than two weeks until Fergus!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Chapter 7 down

I only managed to scrape a measley 300 or so words last night (didn't even bother to update my counter yet) but the important thing was I managed to beat chapter 7 into a form of submission. It's still rough, and I'm not 100% thrilled with it. But it works; it accomplishes what I need, keeps most of the description, and the word count is about what I wanted. Furthermore, I've expended way too much time and effort on it and I need to be able to move forward. There will be time for revisions.

*chants* This is the SFD...This is the SFD...

So tonight it's on to chapter 8, which is half done and if I finish may catch me up to my word count goals. The pace will pick up from here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mid-month report

News flash: apparently, I write better/faster/easier when I'm well rested. Who'd've thought? *g*

I took Friday and yesterday off, because my best friend from high school was coming and we went to see Harry Potter Friday night. I also was pretty worn out from the week and my battles with chapter seven.

Tonight I was fresh, and I managed a whopping 2654 words in about 4 hours to beat my previous nightly record. Also to get caught up and meet my mid-month goal. So woo.

I actually forewent chapter seven to work on a couple later scenes that had been simmering in my head for a few days and just starting to boil. Fun times.

I may try something new this week, or maybe after I get back from my professional conference in couple weeks: I've given thought to the idea of going to sleep when the baby does (9-ish, anymore) and getting up mondo early - like 4 am - and heading in to work, then writing in my office until time to "clock in" at 8. I have a nice office chair, a big flat-screen monitor, and plenty of peace and quiet. OTOH, it's easier for me to stay up than get up. I guess we'll see.

For now, to bed. Please comment on my title post below if you haven't yet - I need input! Thanks!

P.S. I changed my profile pic. That's a pretty good representation, equations and scooter and all. You know it is when you post it and your brother e-mails you: "Where the hell did you get that graphic?!" Hehe. I'll probably go back to arisaid chick at some point, but for now I like it.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A title?

I just had the very first viable option for a title for this book. I think. In a thread on titles on Compuserve, Claire said:
IMO the central plot should be at least a little reflected in the title, if not entirely.
And I agreed. I thought about the central plot - the "core idea" if you will - of the book. To me, that means Scene Zero, where I started writing, and that was the handfasting. All I began with was the idea that my modern MC would have no social standing in seventeenth-century Scotland and therefore wouldn't be eligible to marry the son of the chief. So something like him being condemned to death would have to happen, and then she would sneak into his cell and they would handfast and then then she'd go sacrifice herself to save him, etc.

For those of you who missed it, here's my working plot summary for a query:
Physicist Elizabeth Clarke finds herself trapped over 300 years in the past, pursued by a politically avaricious Earl who wants to use her “Sight” to further his consolidation of power. Her only choice is to take refuge with an outlaw clan. Despite her intention to find a way home, she falls in love with Alec, the handsome son of the chief. Together they try to prevent the treacherous massacre at Glencoe - the Earl's doing - but Alec is captured and sentenced to death. She spends one night in his arms on the eve of his execution, then secretly surrenders herself to the Earl in exchange for Alec's release. When he learns of her sacrifice and subsequent death at the Earl’s hands, Alec’s only choice is to attempt time-travel himself to be reunited with the woman he loves.
I kinda figured the publisher will want either "Highland/Highlander" or "kilt" in the title, to instantly identify it as Scottish historical for the (I hope) legions of readers out there. I didn't want to end up with something cheesy/tacky like Highland Fling (thankfully, that one's taken) or Highland Passions or the like.

But Claire's comment got me thinking. How do you guys feel about this:

One Highland Night

Or the variant: One Night with a Highlander

Does it work for the book as you guys know it? If you saw a book with that title in the bookstore *crosses fingers* what would you think it was about? Would you be interested? Which do you prefer?

Friday, July 13, 2007

I am writing this from within Google Documents, the existence of which I was alerted to by Claire (who really ought to get her own blog *g*).

I mentioned in a previous post that I backed a few files up here. Well, I've been exploring some of the features. They are legion.

For instance, I can publish one of my GoogleDocs right to my blog, after I set up the feature. Nifty.

You can also invite viewers (read-only) and collaborators. They can make changes or leave comments. You can track all revisions and compare the versions to each other. Publish online (though most of us won't choose that option) etc...

Mondo busy at work right now, so I have to leave off. But I thought I'd check it out, and I think it's pretty cool. I can see using this with betas, as Claire mentioned. Also to access my work from anywhere (the word processor is pretty functional) and as backup.

Now I just wonder what small country Google purchased in order to have the land area needed to house all their servers...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Close call

Y'all, I was wrapping up for the night (see prev. post) and I went to save my spreadsheet to my data stick. The save gommed up. No problem, I redid it, closed the file, and reopened. It worked. Cool.

The problem reminded me I haven't backed up in about a week. So I went to do that. I tried to open my data stick ("Drive E") and the computer found nothing there. I tried to "stop device" and the computer informed me the device had malfunctioned.

My entire book is on that data stick.

Color me panicked.

Now, I do back up regularly and to various locations: my laptop, our family desktop, and my computer at work, mainly. And I have been e-mailing each chapter to my crit partner as soon as I finish them. So the majority of the stuff could have been saved.

But.

The breakthrough I made tonight on chapter 7 would have been lost, as would about 1200 words of chapter 8, neither of them being finished. And a few other random snips/scenes that I've been jotting down, and a few brainstorming files. Not the kind of thing you want to lose just when you've regained forward momentum.

So I did the universal fix: turn off the computer. Finally the light on the data stick went off. I removed it and rebooted. Waited for everything to finish loading. Reinserted the data stick. It worked.

Color me relieved.

I backed it up pronto, and found a way to upload quite a few of my files to Google for safekeeping (I'll do them all eventually, but it takes time so not tonight). It's going on the desktop as soon as I post this. But lesson learned.

If any of you haven't backed up your data lately, consider this your public service announcement.

At last

I think I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I've been stumbling around in the dark of chapter 7 for the past week. But thanks to the help and insightful comments of my friends, I may have found my way out.

You'll notice I finally updated my word counter. Woohoo. Look for that to make another jump tomorrow when I (hopefully) finally finish 7 and move into 8.

But for now, to bed.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Query breakthrough

I know I'm not going to be to the query phase for at least another 6 months: I have to finish the first draft by September 20th, then let it sit for a bit, then my first readthrough and edit, then beta readers/workshops, then rewrite from comments and suggestions, let it sit again, and probably at least one more readthrough and edit on my own before submission. At least. Best case scenario is I'll be querying after the first of the year, once everyone's back in the office from the holidays.

So the last thing I should be worrying about writing right now is my query letter, especially since the story is still evolving and needs to be gotten down. But I don't think it's a bad thing to let the query simmer in the back of my head. It can't be a slap-dash thing at the end of the process, after all - I could have the best MS in the world and it won't mean a darn thing if my query is crap.

Today I was re-alerted to the fact that Noah Lukeman (he's a former literary agent and author of several craft-related books) has published an E-book on writing a good query letter. He's made it available for free, but you only get one download per person, so make sure you're someplace you can save it to have future access before you get it. The link to get the e-book is here:

How to Write a Great Query Letter

I, like Jo, don't agree with 100% of what he says. But the majority of the advice is good, and it led to a breakthrough for me. I guess it was one of those things I had to hear multiple times for it to sink in. Keep. It. Simple.

See, my problem was the description of my plot. Because of the nature of my story, a lot of people see "Scotland" and "time travel" and instantly assume I'm just writing some kind of knockoff of Outlander or the other Scottish time-travel novels out there. So I wanted to keep the detail to prove I had an original plot. But this meant I could never compress it enough to fit in a query letter - I kept slipping in names and details that I thought were vital to prove my story was unique. Lukeman finally snapped me out of that necessity, and I was able to pare it down to the bare essentials:

-She is trapped over 300 years in the past (dilemma!)
-Not only is she back in time, but she's being chased by a bad Earl who wants her for his own nefarious schemes (conflict on top of the dilemma!)
-The clan that protects her is outlawed (important to set up the climax)
-She falls in love (duh, it's a romance)
-They try to stop Glencoe (historical setting, external conflict)
-The love interest is sentenced to death (climax, and sets up the central plot point...)
-She sacrifices herself for his freedom (CPP)
-He thinks her dead and also time-travels to reunite with her (twist!)

That sounds like a lot, and it is. But I've managed to leave out extraneous names, side-plots, backstory, and all the other stuff that was bloating my previous attempts. Lukeman says keep it to 3 sentences max. I didn't manage that; I think I got it in 5. But I'm still only on one paragraph, and within the 150-word limit I've seen a lot of people suggest.

Here's the (extremely rough) draft:

Physicist Elizabeth Clarke finds herself trapped over 300 years in the past, pursued by a politically avaricious Earl who wants to use her “Sight” (her knowledge of history - to him the future) to further his consolidation of power. Her only choice is to take refuge with an outlaw clan, and she finds herself falling in love with Alec, the handsome son of the chief. Together they try to prevent the treacherous massacre at Glencoe - the Earl's doing - but Alec is captured and sentenced to death. After one night with him on the eve of his execution, she secretly chooses to surrender herself to the Earl in exchange for Alec's release. When he learns of her sacrifice and subsequent death at the Earl’s hands, Alec’s only choice is to attempt time-travel himself to be reunited with the woman he loves.

Does this work for you? Would you want to read more? Any suggestions?

Slash and Burn

My word counter is no longer correct. But rather than update it and depress myself *g* I'll just let it sit there until I catch back up.

Yup, you heard me. Catch back up. Today I went on a slash-and-burn through chapter 7. But for good reason.

I've been in 7 for a few days now. That's the one I wanted to finish over the weekend but didn't quite manage to finish last night (Hi, Claire!). This is the meet-and-greet chapter, the welcome-to-your-new-home chapter. I wanted the reader to see and experience everything Elspeth was seeing as she made her way to Glenstrae. I researched. I pored through images on Google. I researched some more. And I wrote it all down. And it was boring.

I was having the hardest time moving forward with the chapter. And then a very helpful comment from Carol on my July X (which was based on part of 7) and the advice in this thread (both on Compuserve) metaphorically kicked me in the rear. I was struggling with 7 because nothing was happening. There was no tension. It was too much description and taking too long to move the plot forward.

I still wanted that level of detail, but I broke up the descriptions and scattered them throughout chapter 7 and backwards into chapter 6. Maybe I needed to write them all in one big chunk, but the reader doesn't need to get them that way. It also meant cutting a lot of extraneous wordage.

So I've been set back, but it's moving me forward in the long view. Chapter 7 is tighter (if shorter at the moment) and faster-paced and you know what? Once I cut all that stuff out inspiration kicked in and the part I was stalling on started to roll. Will I finish it tonight? Probably not, but as long as I'm at 57.5K by the end of the week I'll be happy.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Coincidences

Y'all, seriously, I think some Higher Consciousness is pushing me to write this book. Every time I research it, everything clicks into place with decisions I've made about characters, setting, historical details...

An example. The following are bits from Chapter Six, and they were written about 3-4 days ago. Alec is taking Elspeth over a hill/mountain from Glen Orchy to his home in Glen Strae:

He smiled his thanks for the well wishes, and they lapsed into a companionable silence. She was glad of the respite, as the climb had become steep and she was more than a little winded. It didn’t seem to phase him at all, she noted with some exasperation.

A short while later, they crested the ridge and came out onto a flat scarp of rock that afforded a view down into the valley.

He shot her a grin over his shoulder as they picked their way down a rocky slope. He had dimples, she noticed briefly. But it was raining in truth by that point, and the scree underfoot was slick with wet. All of her concentration went to keeping her footing for a few moments.

And then last night I found out the mountain they would be crossing is Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh, and here's a description of it*:
Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh sits between Glen Strae and Glen Orchy. An ascent from Glen Strae is possible but the River Strae has no bridge and crossing may be difficult. The Ascent from Glen Orchy is partly on forest road but then on rough vehicle tracks, therefore careful navigation required. Beinn Mhic Mhonaidh is elongated into a single ridge orientated SW to NE. It has moderately steep slopes with rock outcrops and stony slopes. Good route finding can avoid these obstacles.
(*from this site)

Which, yeah, I know...my descriptions fit lots of places in the Highlands. But still, it's like a horoscope: reading into it, it's a darn close fit.

Oh, and I got the July X up over on Compuserve. It was another good coincidence - one on description from within POV at the very time I was writing Elspeth going into Glenstrae for the first time and describing the surroundings!

Now on to my nightly word count - I need 1100 to round out Chapter 7 and hit my mini-goal.

Updates! And a challenge!

Okay, the blog was in serious need of an overhaul, so I spiffied it up a bit. Updated my links, mainly.

You may also notice the new banner in my sidebar over there. I've signed on for the Seventy Days of Sweat challenge. By Thursday, September 20th of this year I will have a completed first draft. That's only 10 weeks! Wow...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Chapter Six Down

I got back to writing tonight after reaching the point of diminishing returns on my updated spreadsheet. There's only so much info you can pack in before it becomes a storyboard in truth, and gets away from the simplicity and straightforwardness of the spreadsheet format. So I'll stick with what I've got for now, and make a real storyboard with post-its and whatnot when I get to the end.

Managed right at 1000 words - not bad considering I was chatting until after 10 pm. Finished up chapter 6, which is my shortest chapter to date at just under 2900, and started in on chapter 7. In so doing I got past the first of a series of hurdles: describing the dress accurately as Elspeth changes into period clothing. The next hurdle will be bigger: it's time to meet the clan, or at least the principal members. Still dithering on who all that will include and to what degrees.

Chapter 7 is sitting at about 800 words at the moment, so I figure another 2000-2200 will round it out and put me at 54K...I'm shooting for that by the end of the weekend. I need to be at 57.5K by the 15th to meet my midmonth goal, which seems eminently doable if I finish 7 as planned.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Original Spreadsheet

So I decided not to write this evening, and instead spend the night (and the next few, most like) doing a little bit...okay, a large bit...of organizing. I started with my spreadsheet, expanding and rearranging it to include some of the storyboarding ideas from the previous post.

While I was at it, I googled "writing spreadsheet" to see what came up - maybe some other good ideas - and I found the post that inspired it all, on Justine Larbalestier's blog. Not only is it positively inspiring advice (worked on me, at least) - it's fun to read, too. *g*

That was the basic format for my spreadsheet. I'm now in the process of refining it to meet my own needs. When I'm done, maybe someday I'll find the time to post about it at length.

Oh, fun thing: I subscribe to Randy Ingermanson's "Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine" and Blog and have read over his "snowflake method" for writing a novel. In it, he mentions spreadsheets (excerpt from Step 8):

For some reason, this is scary to a lot of writers. Oh the horror. Deal with it. You learned to use a word-processor. Spreadsheets are easier. You need to make a list of scenes, and spreadsheets were invented for making lists. If you need some tutoring, buy a book. There are a thousand out there, and one of them will work for you. It should take you less than a day to learn the itty bit you need. It'll be the most valuable day you ever spent. Do it.

Make a spreadsheet detailing the scenes that emerge from your four-page plot outline. Make just one line for each scene. In one column, list the POV character. In another (wide) column, tell what happens. If you want to get fancy, add more columns that tell you how many pages you expect to write for the scene. A spreadsheet is ideal, because you can see the whole storyline at a glance, and it's easy to move scenes around to reorder things.

I had to chuckle. Also seems like I'm on the right track. (Funny typo: I typed "write track" first. Hooray for unintentional but accurate puns!) So that's encouraging.

Also on the organization agenda: character maps, character sketches (for secondary characters; I've got a pretty good handle on Alec and Elspeth at this point), subplot arcs, and more research. Then back to the writing grind.

If I keep this up (and I'm a stubborn wench, so the odds are good *w*) I should have a rough first draft by October. That's 3 short months! It's weird to think, not only because I'll have "finished" a book, but because then it will be fall and my son will be over a year and a half old and DH will be back in school (again!) and...well, you get the picture. How time flies.

Fun with plotting!

There's been a lot of discussion on plotting and organizing lately, especially with Claire's thread at Compuserve about her index card method.

I posted in that thread describing my current spreadsheet system (with screenshots!)

So in that vein, I went on a blog-jag this morning, beginning with an excellent (as usual) post from Diana Peterfreund's blog about plotting boards and how she does hers. That post included links to other methods:

An intriguing-looking software package called Writers Blocks. I may try the demo when I get home tonight.

More storyboarding from Julie Leto

I plan to update my spreasheet shortly, to color code for POV and such and expand for all projected scenes (now that I have an outline). I will incorporate some elements of these posts into the spreadsheet. But when I'm closer to or actually done (October is the goal *knocks wood*) I may break out the colored post-its. It's a more organic, all-at-a-glance process.

Quick status update: last night I wrote again for the first time since reaching my June goal. I took a few days off to recover (and research). I managed about 800 words, which was okay. I only need to average 500/night for this month, so that's pretty decent.

Also I think I have decided to drop the pottery arc from the story. It's one of the last remnants of me forcing something into the storyline back when I got started. I love ceramics (see prev. post) and thought it would be neat to have Elspeth do pottery as a way of contributing. But as I approach that part of the story, it just feels like a great big boulder tied to my plot and weighting it down. Which I think is a good indication to let it go. And I do feel lighter.

So, now I need to replace elements of that arc with simpler, more realistic bits. Must research and cogitate on that a bit. I'm thinking of having her take up weaving, taught by Alec's sister Mairi. Or something else that a 21-st century girl could learn/do to contribute to the clan. Hmmm...

Getting back to the plotting subject of this post, as this story begins to really take shape and get off the ground (to mix my metaphors) as I look over the storyboards and such I'm realizing I need to think about possible secondary arcs, etc. For now, though, I'm just going to write, and see what crops up.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tag, I'm it!

Jen (and Carol) tagged me for this, so here ya go: 7 random, little-known things about myself.

1) I have multiple tattoos. More than 2 but fewer than 5. There's a recurring theme of red roses, and I also have my son's name (Gabriel) in Hebrew on my right shoulder. I plan to get all future children's names too, on the same shoulder in a column.

2) I love ceramics. There's just something cathartic about slamming a hunk of clay on a spinning wheel and pulling something usable and elegant out of it. (Also getting dirty to the elbows.) Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to do anything since college. It's an expensive hobby.

3) Heh. One of the "little-known" things about myself I usually tell people is that I'm writing a romance novel. I guess that one's out... How about this: the first book I ever tried to write was a Star Trek novel (original series) when I was in middle school.

4) Oh, this one's good: in graduate school I rotated the gantry of a linear accelerator into a $50,000 piece of radiation measurement equipment and broke it. Yeah. Thankfully, the repairs only cost about $3,000 and they didn't make me pay for it (or kick me out of the program).

5) I have snuck into an Israeli archaeological site (the tell of Megiddo) after hours. We climbed a fence and up the back of the tell, because by the time our tour group got there it was closed for the day and we wouldn't have a chance to come back. Of course, our "tour guide" was an archaeologist that worked for the Israeli Antiquities Authority, and he knew where we could and couldn't go on site, so it wasn't quite as bad.

6) I am afraid of falling. Heights don't bother me at all, but I can't allow myself to fall. Consequently, I cannot do somersaults or cartwheels, I hate rollercoasters and drop rides (like the one at the amusement park in MY STATE where the girl's feet were cut off!), and I will never bungee jump or skydive.

7) I compulsively stir. If something is simmering in a pot or waiting to be mixed up or whatever, if I come by I will stir it. Even if it's supposed to sit. I can't help it.

Geez, tags...most everyone's taken, so I'll hit Shaylin, Jo, Maureen (we miss you!), and Claire and Deniz and Kimb' if they read this and have anywhere to post it. Also Brooke.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

AHEM

If I may direct your attention to the word count meter...








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Thank you, that is all.

*g*