Clenched Fists in My Knotted Stomach

Lest you think that veteran (i.e., experienced, tempered, refined—don’t say old!) writers are immune to beginning writer mistakes, all I can say is, think again. It’s confession time here in the Star Rigger foundries, where we labor 24/7 converting raw words into story for our ravenous audience. I’m going to share some revealing facts.

My editor, in the course of a long email full of editorial suggestions, helpfully provided me with a list of words and phrases I used too often. Now, all writers have verbal tics—that is to say words and expressions that they use habitually, without even noticing. Turns out, I have my fair share. And with my editor’s list in hand, I used the Find functions in Scrivener and Word to, er, find them and see if I could root some out. Turns out I could—by deleting, by using other words, by recrafting sentences (usually making them stronger in the process). Here’s part of the list, followed by the number of times I used the expression initially (in the 268,000-word book), and then the number after I’d gone through and cleaned things up:

  • indeed 50 / 14
  • very 323 / 96
  • draw(n, ing) 68 / 28
  • drew 89 / 29
  • further 76 / 27
  • farther 31 / 43 (some furthers got corrected to farthers)
  • clench(ed) 27 / 7
  • knot(ted) 25 / 9
  • . And 546 / 209

Did I really use “very” that many times?? Turns out I did. Usually in phrases like “very much want to…” And the last one, in case it’s not clear, is sentences starting with “And”—not unlike this one. Sometimes that’s a very—um, an effective usage. Other times, it’s just lazy habit. I still haven’t gone through and looked for excessive em-dashes—or ellipses… but I will.

I spent literally days of the most tedious editing imaginable doing this. But it was necessary, and you will all be happier for it when you read the story, though if I did my job right, you will never notice.

Most of this happened when I was in Florida helping my brother. I was intending on my flight home to sprinkle all the deleted very’s and And’s and clenched fists out the window as bread crumbs for the birds and the fish below; but alas, I did not get a window seat. I’ll sell them to you for cheap.

One Book or Two—That Is the Question

picture by geralt, via pixabay
Now that I have The Reefs of Time revised to the point that I can send it to my publisher, the time has come to face the question of whether I have written one book or two. At 268,000 words, it is the length of two substantial novels. Before I get into the marketing and art questions, I’d like to ask you readers: Which would you rather see? One big, honking book at a higher price (and probably with small print in the paper version), or two reasonably priced and sized volumes with a cliffhanger and probably a year’s wait between the two?

Do you have a preference? Sound off in comments. The question is open to the floor!

For comparison, the standard length of an SF novel used to be, oh, 60-90,000 words. But it’s grown over the years. Here are rough word counts of some of my other novels:

Neptune Crossing – 104,000
Sunborn – 144,000
Eternity’s End – 214,000

On the other hand, GRRM’s A Game of Thrones is 284-298,000 words, depending on whom you quote.

The Chaos Chronicles was originally supposed to be a long story arc told over a series of short-to-medium novels, each of them pretty self-contained and written quickly (hrrm). By the time I wrote Sunborn, that plan was reeling toward the open window. With Reefs, well…

From a publishing perspective, there are many good reasons to split the book, and, hell, maybe earn some money on the project. From a storytelling perspective, it would be a sea change for the series—a single story, broken in two. Not unlike many TV programs nowadays. Or, um, the Avengers movies. In books, think Connie Willis’s Blackout and All Clear.

As readers, what do you think?

Fussy, Fussy Librarians

Okay, I’ve been absent here for a while, I know. I’ve been exceptionally busy with life—including but not limited to getting some new book covers done, preparing for some writing workshops, making some minor but important changes to ebook files, and, of course, working on The Reefs of Time. You’ll probably get a rash of posts from me with updates on a lot of this. And then I’ll probably go silent again for a while, because the outlook for the next couple of months is Crazy Busy, with Intermittent Chance of Madness.

My reason for emerging? I have a little promotion running today through a service called The Fussy Librarian. It’s a site that offers you a selection of discounted books, filtered by reviews and by your (the reader’s) personal preferences, such as genre and amount of sex and violence. They asked me to post today’s list of daily deals, so I am—but there are no links, so if something catches your eye, you’ll need to do a quick search. (Visit The Fussy Librarian if you would like to get your own daily email of new deals, which will have links.)

I had to chuckle when I saw the last book in the list.

Mysteries:
The Case of the Not-So-Fair Trader (A Richard Sherlock Whodunit)
Jim Stevens
Price: $0.99

Thrillers:
Death of Secrets
Bowen Greenwood
Price: $2.99

Science fiction:
Neptune Crossing
Jeffrey A. Carver
Price: Free
(Okay, if you read this blog, you probably already know that Neptune Crossing is free. But the purpose of the ad is to draw new members readers into the cult fold.) 

Young adult:
Life’s What You Make It
Theresa Troutman
Price: $2.99

Romance-contemporary:
Dangerous
Suzannah Daniels
Price: Free

The Start of Something Good
Renee Vincent
Price: Free

Fantasy-epic:
Two (The Godslayer Cycle)
Ron Glick
Price: $0.99

Romance-suspense:
Savage Secrets
Cristin Harber
Price: $0.99

Romance-historical:
The Marquess (Regency Nobles Series, Book 2)
Patricia Rice
Price: $4.99

Fantasy-urban:
A Witch’s Tale
Rue Volley
Price: $0.99

Stormrage
Skye Knizley
Price: $2.99

Mysteries-Female sleuths:
A Dead Red Heart
RP Dahlke
Price: $2.99

Horror:
Unholy Testament – Full Circle
Carole Gill
Price: $0.99

Children’s / Middle Grade:
Keeper of Reign (Reign Fantasy, Book 1)
Emma Right
Price: $1.99

Romance-western:
Jaded
Chelle Chelle
Price: $0.99

Gay / Lesbian:
Somebody to Love
Merry Farmer
Price: $4.99

How-to:
Jump Start Your Book Promotions
RP Dahlke
Price: $0.99
(Starting, one presumes, with advertising on The Fussy Librarian?)

Writing as an Act of Faith

As I said in my last two posts, I’m on a writing retreat to work on The Reefs of Time. There’s an interesting faith component to this retreat. While the act of writing is almost by definition a leap of faith (Will this book I’m spending years writing actually turn into something good?) there’s a little more to it this time. As part of my church’s annual Leap of Faith experiment during Lent, I have been praying for a creative breakthrough, and also in particular that my writing wouldn’t just sell, but would touch readers in meaningful and uplifting ways. I mean, really, if it doesn’t do that, is it worth all the work and mental anguish? (Yes, aspiring writers, sometimes it definitely feels like anguish.)

Well, on my first night I settled into a comfortable chair with my laptop, in front of a crackling fire (I have a really nice room at this B&B), to begin writing new material. Not moving stuff around, not taking notes, but doing the hard thing: new stuff. No sooner was I settled in than an email came in. Really, I should have been ignoring emails at that point, but I caught out of the corner of my eye, in the little notification window, something about The Infinity Link. Now, The Infinity Link was one of my early novels, not much noticed nowadays, but in my writing career it was a breakthrough novel in many ways. (Not the least of the ways was that it started small, grew large, and took me bloody forever to write—not unlike the book I’m writing now.)

So I read the email. It was from a reader new to my work. He’d found The Infinity Link in a used bookstore a while back, and read it. He’d just read it again, this time via the Audible audiobook. And he was writing to tell me how profoundly the story and some of its images had touched him—and he just wanted to let me know, and to thank me for writing the book!

Before answering the email, I sat there for a few moments, dumbfounded. I don’t know how you would take it, but that sure felt like an answer to prayer to me.

The writing came easier for the rest of that night.

Two Views of My Novel

I found this rock on the first beach walk of my retreat, a sea-scoured nugget of quartz. It seemed to me a perfect metaphor for my first draft: a gem (or crystal, anyway) in the rough, all of its facets and inner beauty temporarily concealed. I probably won’t polish the crystal, but I will polish the novel. (In fact, I’ve made good progress on a couple of thorny problems while down here.) So, here are two different views of my work in progress:

And while I ponder the book, here’s the Landshark scanning the sea for signs of its marine brethren:

First Writing Retreat of 2014

I’m on Cape Cod for a few days, to clear my head and try to get some traction in the rewrite of The Reefs of Time. I’ve got the whole book loaded into Scrivener now, with notes all over the place, and Scrivener has already proved its usefulness in letting me move the chapters of different subplots around like chess pieces. I think I’ve got them lined up the way I want them, though of course I might feel differently as the rewriting proceeds.

Part of what I love about coming to the Cape is a chance to walk along the beach and the dunes, and refresh my brain with ocean air. Whenever I do that, I seem to see patterns in nature that somehow connect with what I’m writing. The tide coming in over the sand, for example, creates little ephemeral rivers that remind me of the starstream, a cosmic structure of my own imaginary design which figures prominently in the new book. (See From a Changeling Star and Down the Stream of Stars for more about the starstream, which was born of a supernova and a long cosmic hyperstring.)

I’m not sure what these vistas of sand dunes remind me of, but I felt strongly that they symbolize something in the story I’m writing. I guess I’ll find out what, later.

In case you think I just stole these pictures off the internet, here’s one of me standing where the dunes give way to the beach and the water. (Would you trust this guy with your daughter? Hmm.)

How about this guy? (He claimed to be rollerblading. But it was way too cold to be rollerblading. What was he really doing?)

The Reefs of Writing — Scrivener?

I’ve been poring over the first draft of The Reefs of Time and taking copious notes on what I need to change as I rewrite it. To my surprise, I found more places that seem to call for further development than places that need extensive cutting. (There’s always a need for cutting and tightening; that goes without saying. But I’m talking about the light-saber approach that’s sometimes needed to excise long, rambling detours. I didn’t find too many of those.) That’s both good news and bad news. The good part is, the first draft is better than I expected. The bad part is—well, remember the picture I showed you of the first draft? The second draft could be longer.

Not what I expected.

To deal with the complexity of the book—I wrote several different subplots as standalone documents, figuring I would figure out how to braid them together later—I have decided to give Scrivener a try. Scrivener is a writing tool designed especially for people like fiction writers, with all sorts of organizational features, including the ability to easily move sections around, as well as keeping notes and research materials at your fingertips. That seems like just what I need. It offers many things that Word does not. Unfortunately, it also lacks a few of Word’s features that I use all the time, such as support for paragraph styles and keyboard macros. An uneasy tradeoff.

I’ve spent much of the last two days with the trial version of Scrivener, loading all my different documents and notes into it, and slicing the book into chapters for easy manipulation. My current plan is do the heavy rewriting in this environment, and then port it back into Word for the final polish. That’s what some of my colleagues do, and it seems to work well for them. (Here’s one such report, from Charles Stross.)

This is all subject to change, as I test things out. Stay tuned.

The Avengers meets The Hunger Games!

That’s The Reefs of Time, all right! Thrilling action, endearing characters, lively wit, and heart-rending trials. Plus, the whole galaxy at stake. 

Okay, I lied a little. The book will have all those things, but it bears no resemblance whatever to either The Avengers or The Hunger Games. (Both of which I liked, by the way.)

I am so close to finishing the first draft of this sprawling adventure that it is my hope and prayer that I will finish the first draft before Christmas. Actually, before Christmas Eve. The first draft. I have another chapter, maybe two, to write. Pray for me!

Why am I telling you about it now, instead of just doing it? Partly as a warmup. And because I want to put it out there that this is what I’m aiming for—like President Kennedy, calling for a moon landing before the decade (1960s) was out. And because so many of you, from time to time, gently ask me how the book is going, and will you have a chance to read it while you’re still alive. Here’s my answer: Yes!

Also, I just like to say, “The Avengers meets The Hunger Games.”

Stay tuned.

Writing Retreat Report

This retreat has been one of the most productive ever. I’m getting good pages written every day, and more importantly, I had a conceptual breakthrough that showed me what I was doing wrong in several chapters as we approach the end. The realization meant I had to back up and go at those chapters differently, but that’s how these things go sometimes. This change will affect how I write much of what is to follow. I feel so confident of this that I’m going to give you a sneak look at a crucial scene near the end of the book. Here it is. Don’t tell anyone what happens, though. This is probably about 850 manuscript pages into the book.

I’m also getting outdoors and exercising—alternating between rollerblading and biking on some of the excellent bike trails around here. I rode for the first time on the lovely Cape Cod Rail Trail, which winds through the central part of the Cape. It was on this ride that I saw my dream setting:

House by a lake (okay, a pond), with private floatplane drawn up to the shore. Does a dream house get any better than that?

Several times now, I’ve taken to the Cape Cod Canal bike trail, which is about the most scenic and relaxing afternoon/evening outing ever. It’s also an outlook of choice for the Cape Cod Central Railroad’s excursion trains. Here’s where they stop to turn the trains around for their return to Hyannis. And by that, I mean that they uncouple the engine from the front and take it around and attach it to the rear, making it the new front.

Here they are, hitching it up.

And away they go. I don’t know what that E-unit locomotive is doing on the back end. It looks like it’s acting as a booster. But I wouldn’t have thought the train long enough to need it. Anyway, it’s a nice-looking engine, grumbling farewell as it moves off.

I didn’t think until too late that I could have taken a nice movie of its departure. Oh well, maybe next time.

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