blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Every now and then, I find I need to remind the folks I know and love that the operative word in the phrase, "working from home" just happens to be "working."  And since the majority of folks I know and love have barely the slightest notion what process goes into writing fiction, I sometimes need to remind them that writing is indeed work.

This time, I wanted to take a lighter approach.  I offer my wording here in case it might help another writer find a constructive way to keep family and friends from killing their career with love, kindness, or carelessness:



Hey, my darlings, just a quick heads-up:
For most weeks, Monday through Friday, I will not be answering my phone, text messages, or email between 11am and 4pm.  These are my work hours.

A longer explanation:
Let's say you work on the 35th floor of an office building, but the only way people can contact you is to call the phone that is on the ground floor.

Fortunately, it's understood you can't answer that phone in a timely manner from the 35th floor, so the building is equipped with an express elevator that whisks you from your office to the ground floor.  The phone rings and -whoosh!- you're right by the phone!

Unfortunately, the elevator goes only one way: down.  To get back to your office, you must climb 35 flights of stairs.  It doesn't matter if what called you to the ground floor needed one minute or thirty minutes.  You still have to climb the same number of stairs to get back to work.

My writing brain lives on the 35th floor.

Thank you for understanding. :)


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Wordle is fun. No doubt about it. Your text-chunk of choice, arranged and colored and sized by most-used words, in a format you can alter and edit and shape to make it most pleasing to your eye.

But it's also a cool little pre-revision tool. Here's why I like it:

First, take a look at the Wordle for Sand of Bone.

WorldeSand

Much of the Wordle looks as I'd suspect. Names of viewpoint characters are prominent: Syrina, Pyrius, Raskah, Shella. But I didn't expect secondary characters to show up as such large pieces. There isn't anything wrong with that, but it did surprise me.

And that word in the middle--Velshaan--should indeed be as large as it is. I like that.

So then I look at the other words, and it's there clues of my writing style--good and bad--expose themselves for interpretation.

The high occurrence of Blade and Blades--no problem. It's a title and an occupation at the heart of the story.

But what's up with one, back, hand and hands? Just how many ones does a single manuscript require? And is that back as in the body part, or returning to a former state/location? As for hand and hands... Let's lump that together with some slightly smaller words. Head, feet, eyes, fingers, chest, shoulder. Smaller still and you'll find lips, arms, mouth, chest and knees. Then you can add in words that refer to what all those body parts do: turned, looked, see, smile, nodded, stood, gaze, shook, held.

Am I obsessed with how the reader sees what my characters are doing? Maybe. As an actor and director, I learned to convey emotions and thoughts through visual cues. It's natural that carries over into my writing. Is that a bad thing for the reader to experience? I don't know. My readers will have to tell me. :)

Then there are words that look suspiciously like fillers: enough, now, around, another. Those show up with frequency enough (see that?) to merit a word search and replace consideration.

Some words surprise me by not showing up as often as I expected. Sand and sands are awfully small, considering the location, the beliefs, and the slang. I honestly thought the words showed up much more often. Ditto for blood, hopefuls, gods, and Katsa. I wonder if, out of concern for too obviously pushing an idea, I actually gave each appearance of those terms a weightiness out of proportion with its prevalence.

A few words surprise me by showing up at all. Really, help? I can't even think of where help would often show up a couple times, let alone enough times to be considered a top 200-odd words in a manuscript exceeding 135,000 words. That's a problem. And why is time so large? I don't recall considering time to be an element critical enough to merit as much "screen time" as the Wordle implies.

And I find it a tad amusing that Yes shows up often enough to make the Wordle. It makes me wonder if my characters are asking too many questions everyone else already knows the answer to. Yet one more thing to keep in mind as I head into revisions.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
The dogs started their raw food diet last week, chowing down on chicken quarters every morning. Yesterday they had rack of lamb as a treat. In the evening, they have a raw apple, carrots, or banana. They both believe this raw food thing is the bestest most wonderfulest idea ever.

Despite all the reading and research I've done on raw feeding over the last year-plus, I still couldn't shake my fear of feeding the dogs raw chicken bones. Thus I sat on the back porch as they ate, ready to intervene at the first sign of trouble.

Hah.

Ty the Wonderdog had no trouble at all--expected, since he lived on the farm for years and dined on... whatever he and the other farm dog sniffed out in the woods. Seriously, there was a patch of meadow up the hill from our house we nicknamed The Bone Yard because it was the dogs' favorite place to stash their treasure when they could eat no more. I once found a... a thing that so grossed me out, I was determined to get rid of it. After a couple attempts the dogs foiled, I decided to dump it in the fast-moving river, figuring the coyotes that roamed in the woods down there would eventually grab it. That was not to be. Instead the dogs swam down the river to retrieve the thing and return it to The Bone Yard.

So yes, Ty is quite accustomed to raw food.

Gambit was another matter. He was absolutely certain he should love-love-love the chunk of raw meat in his mouth, but he couldn't figure out how to eat it. By the time Ty was licking his lips in satisfaction, Gambit was just starting to experiment with tearing off little nibbles. Ty looked on as Gambit went from nibbling to gnawing. I'm sure he would have pitched in to demonstrate technique, if I hadn't been watching. But in the end, Gambit succeeded in finishing his meal.

Seven raw meals later, it's obvious they're not having trouble with bones, or any other part of the meal. Gambit still takes longer to eat his portion than Ty, but danged near any creature would take longer to eat than Ty.

As for the miscellany:

I've been scolded about working my arm too much--a scolding brought about because I was stupid and re-injured it and am back to wearing a soft brace all the time.

Related to the above, I'm sitting on the Black Belt Review Board today--very excited to watch one of my students test, and excited/sad to watch three adults of my own cohort test because I was supposed to be testing with them.

We shall see how much progress I can make on Crossroads before the end of November. Yesterday was my day to believe everything I write is junk. Stupid junk. Stupid, derivative, incomprehensible, boring junk. But I've been here before and, just like my occasional certainty I'm a clumsy and substandard karateka, the feeling passes.

The above feeling was shown the door this morning, when I got a note from a friend that said his coworker liked my first book and wanted to know when the next one would be coming out.

And, in the most important news of all... DEV PASSED THE WRITTEN DRIVING TEST AND NOW HOLDS A REAL LICENSE. This means that, on Sunday, I can hand him the car keys, he can drive himself to and from work, and I can stay home.

It also means the beginning of fret-festivals every time he leaves the house on his own. I'm assuming the edges of that worry will dull over time, much the same way as every other fear.

Lastly, and least importantly, I've been feeling restless again. Truly, I should have figured out how to have a career as a travel writer. It's been months since I've traveled more than 50 miles from home. I'll be heading to Denver in December, but will be staying with family, so that doesn't really count.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
If I’d planned to keep a steady word count from the alpha and omega of November, I would be woefully behind and ready to redline on the stress meter. Fortunately, I am old enough to have looked at my commitments–on top of the usual, at least one member of my out-of-town family was here for the first six days of the month–and expect myself to do little more than get the ball rolling. I did have an afternoon of angst when the little time I’d actually set aside to write was accompanied by constant conversation, but I gave myself a sharp reality check and a lecture, then did my best to (mostly) let it go.

So here I am today, just starting the third chapter of Crossroads of America, and dangling at less than 6000 words completed. But the good news is I’m making headway on a project that has languished far too long on the “Gee, I should do that someday” list. So far, I’ve had to look up quick facts on density and gravity of the earth’s mantle, and peak leaf-peeping times for northern Illinois. I’ve chatted it up with my geocache-loving friend, planned a quick fact-checking tour to the Slippery Noodle, and pulled current information for a half dozen other sites around Indy. Also, catacombs! Planetariums! Natural Gas! (Trust me–that last one will make sense.)

My decision to play NaNo was made hoping it would excite me about a new project. Not about finishing an old project, not about revising an almost-ready project. Excited about something completely new and different and challenging.

It worked!

Also: A new wellness post is up!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Many years ago, I was able to attend the Writers of the Future writing workshop in Los Angeles, taught by K.D. Wentworth and Tim Powers. K.D. gave me a piece of short story writing advice: Mutilate the cows on the first page. For me, who had a bad habit of burying the SF element too many words into the story, it was an excellent piece of advice.

But it was Tim whom I got to know quite well during that week, and I had the chance to spend much of a later convention hanging out with him and his wife. Over coffee, I expressed my huge admiration for the event-puzzles Tim wrote as secret histories, and asked his advice on writing about the weird and wild in present-day settings. The conversation was fascinating, far-reaching, and made my brain hurt with the effort to keep up. His process of discovering and connecting historical events with fantastical motivations and influences stuck with me as I plotted out Crossroads of America.

Now, Crossroads is not a complex secret history, though it does draw from real historical reports, regional folklore, and local events. But the biggest missing piece has always been why the major character--Jack--ends up in a position of such influence, why she is the one who must act, and why her actions might have the power to solve the, um... problems.

Today, while hunting Google for the names of a couple locations in the California wilderness, I came upon this:

"Scientists are puzzled by a mysterious Los Padres National Forest hot spot where 400-degree ground ignited a wildfire. The hot spot was discovered by fire crews putting out a three-acre fire last summer in the forest's Dick Smith Wilderness."

And all of a sudden, Jack has a complex backstory that makes her the inevitable choice for the role she must play, and it's all based on an actual event!

Now back to adding words to my NaNo count.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So I'm waiting for my parents to arrive, and hoping they either beat the line of icky storms or choose to hang out at a coffee shop until it passes.

In the meantime, I'm tinkering with the NaNo project. I've decided to focus on the urban fantasy--Crossroads of America--because I (a) have the research at my fingertips, and (b) grew more excited the more I thought about it.

I love the characters. There's Jacqueline, who prefers to go by Jack--an early-thirties Californian geocaching her way across the country to escape the demons of her past. There's Luke--an early-thirties martial arts instructor who hangs out with an informal group of folks interested in and/or with an affinity for supernatural matters. There's Wyatt--a farmer and medium--and Carrie--an intuitive who works with the Indiana Geological Survey And there's Duncan--Jack's best friend, who knows the secrets she wants to forget.

On the other side, there's Mark--a young man who isn't entirely stable--and the Ditch Devil--who takes full advantage of Mark's ambition and ego-fueled gullibility.

And I throw all those people into museums, war memorials, old catacombs, and planetariums. And there might be wolves.

I've been in love with this concept for years. I want to make it happen!

Familial and work obligations will take the first few days of the month, but I have decided it won't matter if I "finish" NaNo with 50K words. The who idea of NaNoWriMo is what's driving me to finally--finally!--give this novel the time it deserves.

Oh yeah... I should probably finish the Sand revisions, too.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I’ve hit the obsessive stage of revisions. It’s my favorite stage of the process–more enjoyable, even, than that first flush of New Story. The stage of focused revisions is one of both control and discovery, when all the pieces at last fit together properly and flow with the right balance of surprise and inevitability.

Those worldbuilding changes thrill me. Everything that didn’t quite fit now snicks into place. Plot holes are filled. Motivations are clear. Stakes are raised. It works.

Knowing I’ve set myself up to rewrite the last third of the novel is a bit of a drag, but not too much. I’m excited about it for the same reasons as I’ve stated above. It all makes sense. It works.

I’ve been here before. I’ve learned how to switch the nothing-else-matters focus on and off to take care of life’s responsibilities, and I (mostly) keep the snarls of vexation on the inside when interrupted by mundane things like showing up for the classes I’m supposed to teach, grocery shopping, and answering the phone.

But I’d certainly be much happier if I could, right this minute, hide in a remote cabin until I finished. Until I finish the last lines while Fanfare for the Common Man plays in the background.

Yes, I do hear that when hit “Save” at the end of revisions. I hear it because I start singing it. Badly, but with great enthusiasm.

So… a few weeks from now, when I’m whining about how everything sucks and never works and is nothing but an embarrassment that ought to be burned and shows only how stupid I am, when feedback from beta readers proves beta readers are necessary because I have zero objectivity, when I’m grumping about proofreading and cover design and all that crap, do me a favor: remind me I love this book.

And tell me to play Fanfare for the Common Man. I promise to snarl only on the inside.



Also posted at Blair MacGregor Books

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