Turns of Phrase


The great thing about having taken about nine months in between drafting this novel and now running through it for the first edit is that I really get to read it with fresh eyes. I’ve totally forgotten some of the gems and turns of phrase that I used the first time around.

My favorite from today’s session?

In the late afternoon sun, the towering house loomed dark and silent, its shadow spilling down the hill and toward their feet like the runoff from a broken sewer line.

I mean, come on. I’d read that.

Other notables, maybe not so awesome or thematically coherent:

Trees “…thick and gnarled and knotty as the hands of a retired coal miner.”

something “…as stealthy as a camel in clown shoes.”

“perfume that reminded you of your next door neighbor, who somehow smelled like the fifties must have smelled, all cigarettes and sock hops.”

I mean, I don’t know if any of those are going to survive the edit. But they’re sure fun to rediscover.

 


The Authorial Short Leash


What happens when you bring your new canine companion home from the pound and take him on his first walk?

That furry little bastard gets the scent of nature in his nostrils and goes wild, that’s what. He feels the breeze of the great outdoors across his fur and he bolts. He tugs you this way and that. Darts into flower beds. Takes off after squirrels and rabbits (man, my neighborhood is lousy with rabbits right now — it’s like Watership Down in suburbia). Scrambles into the weeds to poop. Runs off into more weeds to sniff at some other dog’s poop.

You’re trying to have a nice, leisurely stroll with your own personal man’s best friend, but you’ve got a hellhound yanking your arm this way and that, tangling your legs in the leash, and, depending on the size of the animal, threatening to pull your shoulder right out of its socket. And suddenly, your nice, relaxing walk is nothing like nice and a rough shot away from relaxing.

The only way to reclaim your walk — to get the critter under control and take back the calm you set out for — is to break out the short leash. You take all the slack out of the rope and keep him locked in step right there at your heel. He tries to get ahead of you by a step? You tug him back. He veers off course? Yank. He so much as lifts his head to sniff after a squirrel? Doublebig yank.

The point is not to be cruel, the point is to demonstrate to the animal — which is only operating on the same basic evolutionary programming that’s served its species well for eons (chase, hunt, kill, survive) — that there’s a new game in town. That there is a new master. No longer does he answer the beckoning call of nature, now he answers to the man on the other end of the rope. It is only by the grace of “I” that he’s even outside to begin with.

And slowly, slowly, with the patience of the glacier, the dog begins to learn. The instincts, the darting this way and that, the bolting — they curb and decline. Then you can let the slack out a bit. Allow him to sniff at the root of that tree. Let him lock in on that bunny scampering across the neighbor’s yard. Only now, he’s not just doing it — he’s checking with you first. He knows where his food comes from. He knows that the walk through nature is conducted on your terms.

You break him on the short leash so you can break out the long leash again later.

That guy (or gal!) who wrote the first draft of your novel? He’s the rescue dog that’s never breathed the free air. Writing the draft was his fly-the-coop moment: he got into the neighbor’s rose bushes with his deviation into needless character development. He chased squirrels into trees with those bizarre plot turns. He went shoving his nose up another dog’s butt with that trope he borrowed from that wicked sci-fi novel he was reading at the time. He shat on the sidewalk when he just stopped writing that one character two-thirds of the way into the story.

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Editing time is time to break out the short leash. Correct those errors your drafting self makes the moment he starts to make them. Can’t let these things fester, or they’ll keep pulling your arm out of the socket. Nip it in the bud now and he’ll get the message quicker.

Of course, we can’t cut out all of that bad behavior — after all, it’s when the story does unexpected things, when it goes off into the weeds and comes back with a dead rabbit in its jaws, that we enjoy story the most. But our story can’t be one long, unleashed romp through the neighborhood. Much as we love the unbridled id that our authorial selves bring to the table, we also need the structure that only the editorial self can provide.

So by all means, take your inner author out for a walk. But keep that thing leashed up. That way, when you finally do let him loose, he’ll know it matters.

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And here’s one more dog meme, just because they’re awesome.

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This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results. This week? Maybe not so productive.


Novel/Short Story Submission Spreadsheet


I was looking for a tool to track my novel submissions today, and I stumbled on this nifty little spreadsheet hacked together by Matt Bell. But I’m one of those guys who likes my stuff just so, and you know, with a little bit of color to keep my tiny brain interested. So I tweaked it and added a couple little things.

A nice feature of Matt’s sheet is a counter that tabulates how long your submission has been in a particular agent’s (or publisher’s) slush pile — it tallies days until you put in a response date. Handy, but a bit dry.

So I added color-coding for the days your piece has been out for submission: Less than 2 months, green (I’d consider that an “active” submission), 2-4 months, yellow (still active but getting dusty), 4+ months, red (probably mostly dead and time to resubmit). This gives you a nice idea at a glance for how many “active” subs you have out.

I also added a “days since last submission” counter, also color-coded, which goes yellow after two weeks and red after a month — a sharp, at-a-glance indicator for whether you might want to send out some fresh subs.

Mmm, subs.

Writing Spreadsheet

All the bells and whistles should work for up to 150 submissions. In the spirit of Matt’s offering, I’ve made the end result downloadable and shareable, in the hopes you might find it useful.

And it’s all on the ubiquitously useful and convenient GoogleDocs, so, you know.

You can find it here.


Project Projections: 80% Chance of Bloodbath


My current project may kill me.

Not because it’s awful, like my protagonist’s assignment in Accidentally Inspired. Not because it’s just too much work, either, like that pile of stuff in your garage that you keep meaning to sort through and clean out.

It’s going to kill me because much like the weather here in Georgia, it’s alternately the best thing ever and the worst thing imaginable, and I don’t know how many fluctuations I can take before my lungs fill up with phlegm and my sinuses explode in protest.

The good:

While I was writing it, I had the feeling that it was terrible. I kept changing things in the middle of the narrative, the plot and characters congealing like a quivering pile of multicolored unidentifiable mystery meat in a school cafeteria. But reading through the story again this week, I’m pleasantly surprised. The plot needs work, to be sure, but it’s more multi-knotted rescue rope with the odd loose end than formless hairball of half-digested tail fur.

Also, there are some lovely turns of language in it — especially toward the beginning. I love a good simile or metaphor like I love a third slice of cake — but like the third slice of cake, I have to wonder if I’m not overdoing it. Trying too hard, indulging in fripperies because they feel good right now, rather than because they’re what I need. Not so much in this book. The language is playful and sometimes poetic, though always a little off-the-wall — kinda like me.

I found a note that Past Me left for Future Me (now Present Me) to “have fun with this story” — my previous story’s protagonist spent most of his time in a smothering haze of self-doubt — and I seem to have followed that advice pretty well. In this story, there’s adventure! Robots! Murder plots! Secret agendas! Double agents! Explosions! It’s not clicking like a finely-oiled machine, yet, but the pieces are there for the clicking, and it was actually already fun for me to read even in its first form — AND YOU HAVEN’T SEEN ITS FINAL FORM YET.

In short, there’s already a lot of good going for it. Of course, that brings me to the flip side of the coin —

The Bad:

A lot of the language that I so enjoyed at the outset dries up like a California reservoir after the first third of the book. Not coincidentally, that’s about where I started making major changes to characters and plots and had to spend all of my fargoes keeping those balls in the air. But that now means I’ll either have to trim it back in the first third or surgically implant it into the latter parts, neither of which is likely to feel natural.

Some of the rewrites on order are massive. I’d guess offhand that maybe a third of the book needs a ground-up rewrite and another third needs a heavy dose of some terrifying, unnameable, especially pointy and sharp editing tools. I know, I know. The editing is supposed to be the hard part. But this particular EPOS feels like it may be bigger than the last one I climbed. Daunting.

The last one, I don’t even want to say. It almost hurts too much. But I can’t avoid it.

I lost the ending of the book, back when I lost the flash drive that had my most recent first draft on it. Only the last 5000 words or so, but still — that one bit of stupidity continues to haunt me, like I went and built a house on an old Indian burial ground. Now, the ending needs — as all endings need — some serious tweaking and tuning, so the loss itself isn’t that bad. But the fact of the loss is pretty damn demoralizing, and leaves me with a grungy feeling as I get ready to step into my rubber gloves and galoshes and slice into this thing.

But the slicing is inevitable anyway. Just means I go into the work with a little bit of gudge already on me.

So. Kill me?

On second thought, I don’t think so.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results. This week? Maybe not so productive.

 


Five Years a Dad


My son is five years old today.

Nothing quite drops a boulder in the stream of what you thought your life was like the birth of a child, to say nothing of adding a 26-day stint in the NICU into the mix. Having kids has forced me to grow up in ways that I never thought I would have to, has cast shadows of doubt and rays of hope across my world in ways I didn’t think possible.

I used to think I had a pretty good idea of who I was and where I fit in this world. But kids will divest you of that notion like a raccoon divesting a garbage can of its contents.

Ever since I became a dad, I feel like every day I have to reinvent myself a little, adjust the way I think a little, consider my effect upon the world just a little bit more. I have to grow up a little more every day, just to stay a few steps ahead.

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Well, maybe not that far ahead.

Happy birthday, Sprout. To quote Johnathan Coulton, you ruined everything … in the nicest way.


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