A Quick Assessment and Other Themes

So, taking a step back, and looking at where I am in my novel… at last count, my main character was about to confess that she may not have… exactly… uhm… killed the person everyone assumes she killed. Actually, he might be alive and well, and fidgeting around in her basement, reading sports magazines, and eating Cracker Jack. (Or whatever the interplanetary, non-sports oriented version of that is.)

The character she is talking to keeps bouncing back and forth between being about eight (shut up, it’s fiction) and sixteen (with stops at every station in between). I’m fairly sure there’s probably a minimum acceptable age at which to have the you know that guy I was supposed to kill? Didn’t. Conversation. So, I’m thinking he’ll probably wind up closer to sixteen, although maybe a little younger.

Definitely a re-write it couple of chapters.

I’m also stumbling into questions of theme, and what the hell is this story really about?

Aliens from outer space.

Some of them are blue.

Some of them look like you.

I always hated theme in high school. It was the part where you took a perfectly good story about aliens from outer space, and then announced, but it’s actually about world peace and puberty. Rorschach for English majors.

Hey, but you’re the one showing me all the dirty pictures.

I spent a lot of time looking for themes, and the ones I found were never the “right” ones.

Then again, if I’m writing the book, how could I possibly be wrong about the themes? Well, don’t worry. Someone’s bound to find a way sooner or later.

New Month, New Goals

First day of August, and I’m thinking about all the things I would like to get accomplished between now and the end of time. I would like to finish revising my novel, of course. I think that’s probably more than a month’s worth of work, but “By the End of October” would maybe be do-able, and it would get me out of the project in time to do NaNoWriMo. Before next summer would still enable me to say “we met briefly at Pike’s Peak last summer.”

And then, we have all those short stories I’ve been meaning to write. **sigh** It seems like every time I finish one, it pops up on the website, or someone calls dibs on it, and that’s that. Or, you know… 20,000 words later, I just have to admit that it’s pole vaulted over “short” story.  I may not be programmed to be a short story writer.

As usual, I guess the goal is 4 short stories in August. One per week, or maybe all in a rush at the end.

I’m still on the fitness=better sleep thing, and working my way toward… well, sleep. I like sleep. I want sleep. I’m working on that.

Shall we add “podcast” to the list? I’m still up in the air on that. I don’t have a clear idea of what I’d talk about for half an hour, but read some stories, announce some random trivia, crack a few jokes… maybe drag a friend or two in with me? I’m fiddling with the idea. Maybe I’ll hit that “buy” button and have a microphone sent to me.

Get a haircut, look like a civilized human being, track down the next day job, which with luck will be somewhere else, doing something else entirely. I’m running out of steam.

So, podcast? Thoughts, suggestions? Somebody talk some sense into me!

Cutting Manuscripts In Public

I spent yesterday playing slice and dice with the next overgrown sasquatch-chapter of the manuscript I’ve been revising. 40 pages going in, and probably right around thirty by the time I decided it would just be easier to rewrite the whole thing. There are just too many pieces, people! I think I’d collected every single unanchored question in the entire book, and thrown it into the interrogation scene. And some of them aren’t very interrogation-y questions. And there’s this really random character (who I love) in the middle of it, telling them how to work a bathtub.

Well, he’s a retired college professor. They’re just going to do things like that, from time to time, and you can’t stop them.

I’m caught somewhere between But I don’t want to cut the retired college professor!!! And So… uhm… why is there a college professor in the first place?

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I did most of the cuts at a table filled with chatty co-workers, so I’d be able to cut with one hand and gossip with the other. You know… keeps your mind off the cutting, so (hopefully) you don’t notice that you’re about to remove the last good bathtub explanation scene.

I wound up talking about how to sell a short story. Where to find addresses to send it to. And maybe the truth is that there are plenty of writers floating around my small town, and that they just don’t know how to take the next step.

Maybe they just need to be wrangled into the library for a writers’ group, and maybe… if I were more social, more organize-y they’d already be there.

The Past Tastes Better

The Past Tastes Better

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, my job is nothing. Forty or fifty years, or in rare cases, seventy, but never much more. A quick nip in time, back to some church dinner or Bar Mitzvah to pick up gramma’s secret recipe—whatever it happened to be—and back to collect the check. Big checks, and bigger tips. Tipping assuages the guilt of asking someone to risk being atomized—and plenty of time to study.

MIT doesn’t let just anyone play with their toys, after all.

Not that they know.

If anybody asks, I’m a waiter.

I’d been a waiter for over a year before I got the other kind of request.

The woman looked at me for a long time before she said anything. Something not quite right about her clothes, as if she were trying to hid who she was, and where she came from. Her baggy t-shirt advertised a decade-old Golden Gophers victory, and her khakhi pants had a bargain-basement droop.

“I would like to buy two tacos,” she said. She enunciated each word, practiced, and vaguely reminiscent of the old Mid-Atlantic accent. I still didn’t know where she was from, but not Minnesota.

“Go away.” I turned another page in my nondescript magazine and smiled at a comic strip that wasn’t funny. “Can’t you see we’re closed?”

She stood firm. “Please? They’re for my pet parakeet. He’s dying.”

That was the code. I leaned over the counter to see if anyone was watching. “Oh. All right. Come around back.”

I waited until I heard a knock, and jerked the door open. “You know what I do?”

She nodded. “And?”

“I need you to go to twenty-seven forty-two.”

For just a second, I thought the numbers were coordinates. Then, I choked. “That’s in the future,” I said. “It’s–”

“Nearly six hundred years from now.” She watched my face, my arms, maybe even my legs. “You do … do that, don’t you?”

“Time travel.” I nodded.

“How much?”

“Every couple of weeks.” I really thought that was what she meant, and I really thought that was the stupidest thing I’d ever said in my life.

“How much money?” She asked.

“I can’t do it. The future–”

“The distant future,” she corrected me.

“It’s tricky. I can’t know where I’ll be in the future.”

“You’ll be dead.”

“Excuse me?”

“Six hundred years from now, you’ll be dead. It’s not like you’re going to run into your future self and ignite the atmosphere,” she said. “Just stay out of cemeteries, and you’ll be fine.”

I considered, as I always did, when that kind of an offer came up. A quick peek at the future news could pay off. “It’s complicated.”

“You believe it, don’t you?”

I sighed. Explaining the science to her wasn’t worth it, and she wouldn’t agree with me, regardless. Until you’ve seen it, you’ll never understand how vast and timeless a single grain of sand can be. “There isn’t enough money in the world to make me go to the future,” I said. “Too many variables.”

“The Grandfather Paradox?”

No, she didn’t understand what she was saying, but there it was. My out. I made my next nod an apology. “So, you understand,” I said.

She smiled back at me. “Of course, I do.” She shifted her weight, and got up. I was relieved. She wasn’t going to be a problem. “I’m sorry I wasted your time,” she said.

I shrugged it off. I didn’t need the job. I didn’t need any job. That made it easier to say no. “If you think of anything else you need,” I said. “If it’s within our parameters…”

“Oh, I’ll call you.” A wistful sigh, and I still felt guilty for saying no. She was out the door, and headed back to wherever she came from before I could say anything else.

I followed her into the rain, just to make sure she got back to her car alright. Nobody ever looks for a borrowed quantum distortion generator in a rough neighborhood, but I was uneasy about letting her walk alone. “Hey. Let me walk you to your car.”

She walked a little faster. “I don’t have a car.”

“You live near here? I’ll walk you home. It’s dark.”

She didn’t respond, and she didn’t look at me again. She got to the dead end of the road, and just stood there, with the wind and rain soaking her through.

“You mean, you’re homeless?” People did camp in that park. I hadn’t guessed. I hadn’t even offered her a sandwich. “What could you possibly want in twenty-seven forty-two? I mean–”

“Nothing.” She paced without looking at me. “I don’t want anything. I got what I came for.”

I debated how her mind was. Not good, if she was standing in that neighborhood, in the rain at night. But she got the pass code somewhere, and I tried again. “I’ll call some one. Want a sandwich? I’ll try not to burn the peanut butter.”

“It’s recursive,” she said.

Maybe she wasn’t talking to me. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Lets go somewhere warm.”

“It’s not a paradox. It’s recursive.” She was talking to me, and she wasn’t, and maybe she didn’t remember I was even there. She chewed her lower lip, and thought hard. “The whole thing. Time travel. The whole species. Maybe even the whole planet. It’s recursive.”

I gave her a stern smile. “You never told me what you wanted,” I said.

“It’s okay, Grandpa. I got what I came for.” She took something out of her pocket, and looked at it for just a second. “You get there, eventually.”

“I get where?”

She pressed a button, and disappeared into the blue crackle of distorted time.

Be sure you visit the other blogs on the hop for more short fiction.

You are Here—>The Past Tastes Better by Karen Lynn

Revealing Space by Barbara Lund

The Rose Tender by Raven O’Fiernan

The Last Sleeping Beauty by Tamara Ruth

Freeman byElizabeth McCleary

Hell’s Play by Juneta Key

The Token by Eli Winfield

Moshe by Chris Makowski

To The Moon And Beyond, by Fanni Sütő

Surprise, by Katharinia Gerlach

In A Picture by Erica Damon

The Things That Matter

So, Doctor Who is regenerating, again, and this time, he’s regenerating into a woman. (She’s regenerating from a man? Something.) For those of us who were paying attention, it isn’t a surprise. (I’ve only seen the replacement playing the mother of a murdered child, and damn, I hope it doesn’t get that gloomy.)(Also, I was kinda rooting for Tilda Swinton. Ignore me.)

A lot of strong feelings about who plays a mostly asexual, 900 year old time-traveling alien in a children’s show. And, honestly, I’m not sure how much of it comes from people who actually watch the show, and how much is from outsiders. The Doctor could pretty much be played by a sentient mitten without changing the show.

So, the question is: Which parts of a particular character cannot be changed without changing the central core of the story?

It’s a tough question, because the answer changes from character to character, and most of the time, nobody cares enough to ask.

You couldn’t, for instance, change the character of Elizabeth Bennett into a man because the whole book is about women not having security because they were not able to own property. If she’s a man, she just inherits the farm. Problem solved. You also couldn’t turn her into a 20th century typist. Because, once again, she inherits the farm, and problem solved.

Why does Bridget Jones come across as being so much more vapid than the original? Because she doesn’t have any problems that couldn’t be solved by her pulling her own damn shit together. **cough** Twentieth Century Typist **cough**

You probably could turn Elizabeth Bennett into a Lesbian, though. Lack of legal standing=lack of stability=lack of ability to wind up with the person she really loves. Oh, yeah. There’s a problem.

And my own characters…

It’s a little on the patchy side. You could change this gender, maybe. But not that one. Careers are more solid, in general. She has to be a monarch. A fishmonger just wouldn’t be the same story. He has to be a former soldier, although it’s anybody’s guess what he’s been doing after the war. They have to be from opposite sides of the war, and they have to come from completely different cultures.

It’s probably going to help to separate out the MUSTS from the “just felt like its.”

So, what traits do your characters absolutely need? Which could be changed?

Backward Word Sprints

I started running backward word sprints a while ago. I’m not sure what else to call it. I set a timer, and focus, and then, when my attention wanders, I hit the timer, and write down how long I’ve been at it. The timer goes up instead of down, and the goal is minutes of focus instead of words. (I’m revising, so words would be a little tough.)

I wound up with 32 minutes and 52 seconds over my lunch hour, which is as coherent a chunk of time as I’ve ever managed to come up with.

It also leaves me with the feeling that I’m getting something done.

Trackable, concrete progress.

Something to write down in my notebook to prove I’m not just sitting around breathing air.

A lot of the time, I do feel like I’m just lollygagging around. I write–but is there progress? Am I any closer to where I want to be than I was, when I sat down?

When I’m writing, I have words to log. Yes, moving toward a finished draft. But revising? I’ve never really gotten the hang of that. I have a process, of course. It’s a good process. (I bought it off a stranger on the internet, and it’s turned out to be one of the best purchases I ever made.) But that new-words feeling? Well, that’s just for new words.

One of my characters did something really out there, today. I don’t know what corner of my subconscious that came from, but he wound up punching another character. One I had considered sacrosanct. Guess not.

And I’ve reached the point that I’m rejoicing over words cut. Hey, that means I have space for my characters to punch each other in. (Yes, I’m down to the dangerous end of too many words.)


Your New Terrifying Thought of the Day

I found a new and improved querying phobia, the other day, and since I can’t get the thought out of my mind, I figured the rest of you should suffer, too. Maybe I’m dense, but I hadn’t even thought of this one, before.

This one’s from Janet Reid’s blog–she’s a literary agent, and she blogs, and you should read her blog, even if you’re only slightly considering traditional publishing–and here’s the dark and terrifying quote:

“You should also remember that if I love your work, and sign you as a client, all my OTHER clients will be skulking around your blog to learn about you.”–Janet Reid.

Oh, good. That’s not terrifying at all, because I am perfectly normal. All my friends are perfectly normal. And we certainly did not throw a party for our imaginary friends a couple years back. Also… pay no attention to any posts about standing in the rain with a camera trying to photograph lightning; rampant insecurities; desired marriages based on “some men can cook”; vacuum cleaners or other electronics with names; or skulls or other human remains.

I don’t know how that got there.

So… there’s the idea. You know that writer? The one that made me query this person in the first place? The one where I explain the agent by saying ___________’s agent? (As in, They’ll probably laugh until they pass out, but they’re ________’s agent, so I at least want to try?) That client?


That seems to say they’re inviting themselves over for dinner.

Don’t forget they’re vegetarian, and they have some food allergies. (I’ll send you a list.)

Not just my place. They’re going over to visit you, too.

I’ll be hiding as a puddle of melted Karen over in the corner. You get your own disguise.


Unsagging My Middle

No, not my middle. My Story’s middle. I have a character who needs to get from point A to point B in a hurry, but the middle third of my book is starting to look more like the Lord of the Rings than something thoroughly modern, and written by someone who **ahem** doesn’t particularly care for dual person verbs.

There are a few things that need to happen on this trip, but not a lot. It’s not an epic journey, and it’s certainly not the whole point of the story. Just enough that I can’t skip over it and just say “And when he arrived, he took a bath.”

And the whole thing has to be very, very sleek, because I’m running out of spare word count.

As if it didn’t have to be sleek, anyway.

There was a lot of sag to the book, when I started my revision. I’m not sure if I’m talking about words and plot lines that I never should have written in the first place, or if they were… necessary explorations that have now served their purpose. They don’t fit in with the plot, and most of them can’t fit in with the plot.

I’ll save some of them for the next book, and throw out the rest.

I keep coming up with things that could–and maybe should–go in the book, though. A plot card here, a paragraph there.

I have plot cards in an envelope. Counted out and color coded according to available word count. If I run out of cards before I run out of plot, I’m in trouble.

So, how about it? Any plot de-sagging tips I should hear?

Early Morning Word Sprints (Caveman Style)

I got up this morning and did a nice, long word sprint, instead of my usual blog post. I got a lot done, and wound up with enough of a scene that I didn’t feel particularly guilty about going out to play. It gave me something nice to put in my “progress charting journal” and really does… uhm… compliment the on-going “took a vitamin D capsule in the pretense that it’s actually morning when I get up”. It worked well, and there’s a fairly good chance I’ll do the same thing again, at some point.

Maybe I’ll be a little more organized about it and figure out I’ll put up that day at some time in the evening.

Word sprints are working out fairly well for me… well, when I remember to do them. I got two of them in, today. They were both an hour long, and that amounts to about six pages, all with teeny-tiny writing. (Don’t ask the size of the pages.) I’m doing the writing longhand, at the moment, which seems to keep me in a much more linear space, and it also puts the computer (and Twitter and the News and and my e-mail and my several writing forums) out of reach.

Linear is very, very good.

I’m reminded of that every time I pick up a section to revise.

Eventually, I’ll wind up with a stack of little yellow papers, and type them all into the computer (because nobody’s willing to accept a shoe box full of little yellow papers) and that will be like a first going over editing. As long as I can keep all of my little yellow papers together long enough to get them into the computer, this process could really work out well for me.

I did some word sprints socially during NaNoWriMo last fall, and then, a presentation by Jenny Marts (Writing Sprints Journal) at the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference kicked me back into it. I haven’t gotten as far as chasing down sprinting buddies, because I’m not exactly sure what I’d have to report back to them, besides a number of handwritten pages. I’m also–not always, but frequently–going a lot longer with my sprints than we did for Nano.

In a weird way, writing sprints seem to be a thing I’ve always done. Not, perhaps, the organized, pre-emptive, I’m going to sit down and do this thing, but the last minute, NO, REALLY, YOU HAVE AN HOUR AND A HALF, NOW COME UP WITH SOMETHING COHERENT! thing.

So, there you have it. If you’re going to wait until the last minute to get anything done (and well, yeah. I am.), you should probably figure out a way to get yourself as many last minutes as possible.

Does anybody have any tips on how to make sprinting work for revisions? How to measure revision progress in general?

So, NOW What Do My Characters Have In Common?

I finally found that scene. You know…. THE scene. The one that has been missing, and in hiding, and presumed dead, or possibly never to have existed in the first place. I found that scene.

I’m still writing it, but I think that it’s what the novel needs, maybe more than any of the other scenes. I thought it was probably going to be a love scene in the end, and I can’t say I was all that thrilled about it. I’m pretty blustery when I’m in a slump. I’m always going to give up writing good stuff and go write Sasquatch porn on Amazon, or, you know… Zombies or Spiders could be sexy…. but in the end, the problem with my erotica-writing get rich quick schemes is that what I write never turns out to be erotic. Oh, look, a duck! So, in terms of actual love scenes, in actual post-slump writing… Uhm…

This is not a love scene…

Not really.

But the two characters do have a lot in common by then. They actually… might have more in common than any other two living people in the book. (There are a lot of dead people. I won’t do commonalities with the dead.)

I forgot to ask that “what about now?”  question. You’d think I’d remember that.

So, now I have the first end of the scene, and some choppy bits, and I think that’s probably my last “safe” plot card. We’ll see if I can get to the end of the book without getting into my “tread carefully” plot cards or my “do it and you’re dead” plot cards.