Cemeteries and Science

Somewhere, in the Great American Prairie, on land that belonged to a town that no longer exists, you will find a small cemetery. Be sure you close the gates. You don’t want to chase the cows out, and the volunteer who mows doesn’t want to clean up after them.

Now and then, a new grave goes in–someone old enough and local enough to own a plot–but for the most part, you’re the only living person there. All the rest–the pioneers and cowboys, the homesteaders and farmers, even your own great-something-great grandfather, who used to deliver the mail a couple of times a month… they’re stories from before your time.

And if you went there often enough, you still know those stories by heart.

And you know the family names, of course. The families are still around. Mixed into bigger towns, more successful towns.

Seven children died, once. One after another, from whatever the disease was at the time. Typhoid, maybe. Cholera. Something we cure with antibiotics if modern water systems even let it through.

And their father had to bury each one, himself.

Carry the bodies out to the cemetery, tuck them into the ground, and cover them with dirt.

Their neighbors told the parents they had sinned, and judged harshly, as if they, themselves would be immune.

But, not quite sure, they made him bury his own children.

 

That Writing Sprints Journal Thingy…

I got a copy of the Writing Sprints Journal by Jennie Marts. Let’s be honest. This is one of the books I could have bought at the writers’ conference, and maybe I should have. It took me a couple weeks to decide I wanted it, though. Even after hearing the author talk, and seeing her amazing productivity.

This is a how to organize the three and a half minutes you have in a day book. It’s not how to write a novel, or how to revise, or how to write perfect characters.

It’s just how to get the most out of your time.

Jennie’s goals are a lot loftier than mine. She does four or five books a year, and still looks like a beauty queen while not cussing out the books, the schedule, or random strangers on the street.

Personally, I’d be happy with one book a year, while looking nearly human. (And I promise not to cuss out lamp posts or fire hydrants.)

Okay, so after the initial shock of Word sprints? Really? That’s it???! I thought about it, and the truth is that word sprints–in general–do work for me.

I’ve never really done them in an organized, routine way, though. More of a panicked, I’m how many words behind? during Nano.

This is more of a plan, and then sprint, and by the way, do it every single day kind of approach. It’s Organized with a capital O.

And as you may have guessed by now, organized is not my natural state. It’s something I buy or steal off others. It’s something an army of high school teachers has tried and failed to teach me. (Some of them came through remarkably well. Others… well, they do twitch a bit, now.)

As of right now, I’m in the revision phase of current book.

As of… well, a  really long time, actually.

I’m debating whether to start right off by adapting the book for revision-y sprinting, or to start with actual word-sprints for new material, or what.

Fine. So, I’m writing in my recurring events, and working my way up to the big stuff. Right now, the goals are: Finish revising book. Write Query letter and Query the book. Begin next book. Short Stories for Blog Hop and (**sigh**) 52 week challenge. Oh, yes… and try to sell at least one of those.

I’ll just sit here and stare at the journal until I wind up jumping in head-first, I think.

 

Writing by Index Card and Machete

So, I started the revision with three separate files on the ol’ novel-writing software. I had One for the  chapters at the beginning that I’d already revised almost to finished. One for the things that I think I can use out of the first draft. And One for scenes which did not exist, when I started the revision. (I have matching, color-coded index cards to go with this.)

I’m pulling the three apart to make one, coherent file, right now.

Watching my word count soar.

I’m aiming for a word count somewhere in the middle of my genre’s expectations.

Word count and I haven’t always been friends. My first novel wound up very low, and the first draft of this novel is… well, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of twice as long as it needs to be. I was playing with writing thick at the time.

Let’s just swing back and forth between extremes.

I have about 80,000 words in the “good” pile and about another 70,000 in the “possibly able to keep” pile.

**sigh**

I know I have a lot I can’t save, and some of it doesn’t even fit with the plot, anymore… but still!

It’s possible that writing thick isn’t working for me on the revision end.

So, how do you write? Less than you need and add more later, or more than you need, and cut it down to size in revision?

 

Reading, Writing, and Television Documentaries

I’m finally sitting down to finish reading the Doomsday Book, and it appears that I’ve saved all the most depressing bits for last. **sigh** Well, I guess I shoulda figured it out back at the beginning, when I found a quote from the author that suggested that all time-travel stories are inherently sad, because you’re dealing with characters who have long since died.

Let’s see if I can keep up here. I took a break from my Hugo/Nebula list to read Sandman, an now I’m taking a break from Sandman to read the Hugo/Nebula list. Oh. And some quick peeks at the book I was given at the writers’ conference. Because, hey, free books.

Ideally, I would like to have my own book finished before the people I met at the writers’ conference forget who I am.  So, I’ll just hop in a time machine, and go back to last week to mail the manuscript. I’m feeling incredibly forgettable, right now. And maybe, the truth of the matter is that the whole point is to be able to “jog” people’s memories later: “We met briefly at the Pike’s Peak Writers’ Conference. I did not throw up on you.”

Clearly, I need a more concrete timeline.

Right now, I’m working on organizing everything I have into one coherent document with a timetable attached. I think most of the scenes are written–or, at least, I can say they exist in real life–and just need to be polished.

And I watched a delightful–if somewhat mass-audience–documentary on syphilis today. It’s amazing the things that are just sitting there, waiting for you to find them on YouTube. I learned that there is a non-lethal, airborne version of the disease, and also that John Deere tractors are sold in England.

To the best of my knowledge, there are neither John Deere tractors nor venereal disease mentioned in my novel. Perhaps I should add a postscript.

 

Religion as A Marketing Technique

Yesterday, I was reading an author’s biography.  Her biography was a list of attributes. You know the kind. Dinosaur wrangler, Rockstar, and Mail-order Accountant Ethel Hergenmeier lives in Florida with her husband, her potted plants, and three small children whose parents refuse to take them back. (This was the blog-based, and probably unofficial biography, by the way.)

Except, in her case, the first attribute was her religion. So, Zen Buddhist, Dinosaur Wrangler and etc… And, in all fairness, she was writing a book about the Four Noble Truths for writers, or artists, or something. (Disclaimer. I never got past the Third Noble Truth, and can’t remember what the Fourth Noble Truth is, so if you have questions about Zen Buddhism, go ask one.)

For all intents and purposes, the book seems to be marketed toward a general writing audience, and not exclusively to the Zen Buddhist crowd. The biography on Amazon is different, and focuses on her previous books, her career, and where she lives.

There’s no separate Zen Buddhist section in the bookstore (or at least, not in mine) and this book would wither and die, if people had to hunt it down in “Eastern Philosophy.”

The general audience thing has me stumped. On the one hand, the fact that the writer is a Zen Buddhist could matter. Of course, if it does, the fact that the reader is not could also matter.

With some religions, I have a very clear idea of what to expect, if the author or the book is described (front and center) with their religion. Christian comes to mind, and generally means no sex, no swearing, and geared toward a (fairly conservative) Christian audience. (No, that is NOT idiomatic.) It’s not just a fact, it’s a niche market.

I don’t have that same clarity with Zen Buddhism. Maybe I would, if I knew more about it, but I’m not picking up on the “How does that sell books?” end of it.

There’s a range in all of the biography information. Retired FBI agent or NASA astronaut is more relevant; Owns a dog named Buster is… arguably less relevant. And you work from more to less relevant.

So, how important is knowing an author’s religion to you? And what information do you get from knowing? Are there any circumstances under which you would mention your religion in your bio information?

 

 

Killing My Imaginary Friends and other Pastimes

So, today I invented an entire person just so I can kill them off. Start to finish, her short life is about six pages before she dies an untimely, yet horribly convenient death. Poor thing doesn’t even have a name.

I’m not one of those people who cries a lot writing scenes like that for my own books, but I’ll cry buckets over other people’s characters.

Maybe it’s because my own characters continue to exist for me–and I know that no matter how dead they are in that time line, they’re still alive and well in my notebooks. Maybe suspension of disbelief is harder for me as a writer than it is as a reader. I don’t know.

In my first book–my very first ever finished, book-length book type book–I killed my main character’s husband. Then, I un-killed him in revision. Then, I erased his existence and brought him back a second time. The truth is, I have no idea why she had a husband, in the first place, and that one character made so much work that I’m pretty quick to kill off future characters.

Characters were the big problem in that book. I had too many. And I didn’t like the ones I needed to like. Not, of course, in the sense that I wouldn’t go out and grab a cheeseburger with them. But in the sense that I didn’t like working with them.

The pure novelty of writing a novel got me through writing that one, and the terror that I might never do it again got me through the revising.

What I should have done… what I hope I now have the sense to do… is write another novel.

And another one.

It’s so easy to get trapped in revising “THE” novel. It’s harder to get trapped in “a” novel.

Happy Where the Hell are My Pants Day, everyone!

So, today’s the day I haul my carcass out of bed and go back to work to find out what kind of mess is waiting for me. For those of you who are playing along at home, a co-worker quit while I was gone, so they’ve been down a couple of people.

Back into the routine. I’m awake, and writing a blog post that should have been done, yesterday, and writing down details of my morning–when I got up, what I ate (caffeine), an assortment of vitamin pills I’d probably forget if I didn’t write them down, and of course, writing progress.

I am still typing all those bits and scraps of paper that were waiting for me before my little vacation-ish thingy. Must remember to do that as I go. (Pause for laughter.)

Nothing quite like getting away for a while to remind you how much you don’t want to go back.

Someday, I will live in a town where there are more options.

Honest.

IWSG: Comparing Myself to Others

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!
The awesome co-hosts for the May 3 posting of the IWSG are Nancy Gideon, Tamara Narayan, Liesbet @ Roaming About, Michelle Wallace, and Feather Stone!
Back at the insecurities question… Well, I just got back from my first writers’ conference, so I’m still processing a lot of information. So, I think–right this second–the thought that’s fluttering through my head is the amount of time involved in getting to the point that I can actually sell a book.
On the one hand–and objectively, I think–I believe that I’m getting close. I know I’m getting better.
On the other hand, it’s been a long, long time.  I’m insanely impatient, right now. Well, anyhoo… you know that one over-achieving classmate we’re all damned to endure? The one who straddles six or seven of your pet insecurities? Or, maybe that’s just me. Mine happens to live at the busy intersection of More Successful and Give Up and Write Sasquatch Porn. With regular stops from the Gonna Die Alone and Obscure Trolley Line. (And I’d really be breaking out the Valium if they were a writer.)
Yup. I ran into one of Over Achieving Classmate’s fans… or at least someone who brought them up often enough to grate on my nerves. I should have a sign to hold up.
The weird part is that I’m actually not all that much older than fan girl. (I Googled.) She just made me feel–uhm, decrepit.
At a distance, Classmate is my ticking success-clock. Tick-tock, tick-tock. How long until I run out of steam, and break down without ever reaching my goal?

May 3 Question: What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

Right now, I’m writing (very, very soft) science fiction, which means that I don’t need to know that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 (in our timeline, anyway), or exactly what George Washington’s false teeth were made of. (eww.) Now and then, I wind up looking for more details on this or that, (or having the mind-bogglingly obvious pointed out to me) but more often than not, I pull information in mostly so that I can twist it, and then throw it into outer space.
Oh, wait… you’re talking about how to keep someone alive in a near-vacuum long enough that they can be eaten by giant space bugs, aren’t you? Well… yeah. There’s that.

The Really Long Conference Post

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Random Assortment of Mountains, As Seen From Gas Station on the Way out of Town. Look: It snowed!

So, Pike’s Peak…

Let me be honest. I did not feel good the entire time I was in Colorado Springs. Thin air, altitude, kreb’s cycle… maybe I even caught actual germs… whatever it was, I was at less than my conference-going best.

I spent a couple of hours in classes really more intended for thriller writers, both of which were taught by the really fun–if somewhat morbid–forensic anthropologist and writer, M.R. Rutter. I have no idea what I’m going to do with the information, but since my own anthropology professor was a parasitologist, (think tapeworms and fossilized people poop) I figure the field as a whole owes me a few murders. These were absolutely the highlight of the weekend.

I also took a few craft classes, which–for the most part–seemed to be live recitations of things I (mostly) already knew, but which were said in a much more authoritative voice than the ones in my head.

I think–in general–I would do more of the information-sessions and fewer of the how-to sessions, if I had it to do over again. I’m not saying the craft sessions weren’t good, but in terms of bang for your buck, I think you could get a lot of the information out of books while sitting at home in your pajamas.

I like pajamas.

Well… I like the comfy clothes I sleep in. I may have been eight the last time I owned pajamas.

I am not social when I don’t feel good, and I think my outcome was probably affected by that. I met a few people from Holly’s website, and a few others, and did my best to be social, but… it did not result in stacks of business cards, or even more than a few people I feel like I know better than I did going in. Of course, that also means that no one gets to curse me as the person who gave them bubonic altitude sickness, or remember me as the queen bitch of the universe, either.

So, I met a few agents. Probably more than a few, if you count the ones who don’t represent anything close to what I write. Sat in on a questions and answers session with them (in which most of the attendees had the same deer-in-the-headlights look I did, and the moderator asked most of the questions.) Had lunch at the same table with one. (I may have infected them with bubonic altitude sickness.) I did not throw up on any of them, and in all honesty, I didn’t do anything memorable enough that I believe any of them will have any faint idea who I am in a week or two.

So, success!

There were, of course, pitch sessions (I picked up a non-industry type stalker at pitch-a-palooza once), and pitch appointments, and pitch-themed barf bags in the back of the chairs. So, if that’s your thing, Pike’s Peak would definitely be a good conference for you. It is also–the director notes, loudly–one of the few conferences where the faculty is required to actually eat with the attendees, so there are more casual opportunities to get to talk to them.

We could talk about the food… but the truth is, it wasn’t good. I was expecting more, and about half the time, I might have been better off with a drive-through cheeseburger. By the end of the conference, the lime-vinaigrette that kept appearing, meal after meal was a little tedious. Apparently, about half the conference cost is food, and they need to hit a certain food-sales benchmark to get the hotel space.

No comment, there.

The acoustics in the dining room were not great. Actually, they were can’t hear the person next to you awful. (Plus or minus the fact that my ears were a little clogged, it was still noisy.)

So, the big question would have to be, would I go back?

Yeah. I’d actually like to do this again, sometime when I’m feeling better, and when I have the time and money to do it right. (And preferably when I have someone else I know with me.) I’d like to see some of the upcoming profiling seminars. I also really appreciate the fact that the publishing glitterati are being forced to eat with me. Or… well, whatever the hell sounds diplomatic there.

I’ll point out here that–generally–my vacations do not repeat. I’m not someone who goes to the same place and eats the same food year after year. (Actually, lately… my vacations do not happen. This was the first one in a few years.)

A-to-Z Challenge: Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway

Just in case you missed it, I’m headed to the Pike’s Peak Writers’ conference in a little over a week. So, my mind is already out in Colorado, and look at this, I’ve found a railway just for you to look at.

Remember that hiking path that ends in a parking lot out in California? Well, this is the slightly more historically face-palm version, with trains. Pike’s Peak is named after a man called Zebulon Pike (Imagine having to scream “Zebulon” in bed! His poor wife.) Zebulon never made it to the summit, but they named the mountain after him, and at some point, they named this particular railway after the mountain.

Guess where the railway goes?

Yup. Straight to the summit. Six to Eight times a day.

Poor Zebby.

So, on to the details everybody’s been waiting for. The Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway runs 8.9 miles, between Manitou Springs, and the summit of Pike’s Peak. It is a standard gauge railroad with tracks 4 feet 8 and a half inches wide (as the Great Architect of the Universe intended.) (because narrow gauge is creepy.) It is a cog railway, which means that it has a third track with little teeth, to pull the train up steep places (like, say, a mountain.)

The older engines are on display at Manitou Springs and several museums through Colorado, and some of the historic (but still conveniently functional) engines and cars are dragged out and actually used from time to time.

I’d tell you how perfect and beautiful the scenery is, but I already said it was in Colorado.

This year, my inspired Alphabetical Challenge theme is “The Letter M”. I’m working my way through the alphabet, one M word, M, person, or M place at a time. No, I don’t have any idea what my Muse was thinking on this one.

If you want to learn more about the A-to-Z Challenge, or join in, the website is here.