Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Musing: Fresh Eyes

While every writer has their own particular process they follow, one finds almost universal* agreement on one thing: It's good to put your manuscript aside after finishing that first draft, let it stew for a bit, and come back to it 6 or 8 weeks or so later and read it again with 'fresh eyes.'

Yet even with a long break, I find the very act of re-reading one of my manuscripts triggers my memory, and while I occasionally surprise myself ("Wow, that scene worked even better than I thought!"), more often than not, I don't. I anticipate the words, recognize the sentences, and find myself reading something on page 38 that I know I have almost word for word somewhere later in the story—and I almost always know exactly where to find it. This makes it harder to properly edit the story, because I know what I meant to say and thus I'm not always the best judge of whether I've said it right.

Interestingly enough, it doesn't work quite the same way when I re-read someone else's work. Last week, a friend handed me a copy of Richard Russo's Empire Falls, thinking I might like to read it. She's right--I read it about two years ago and liked it quite a bit. As I found myself between books with nothing new handy, I picked it up and started reading it over. While it's familiar, and I know how it will end, and pretty much everything that comes in between, it's not stale for me. More interestingly, I'm not anticipating sentences or words, or skimming over bits or plugging things in ahead of time.

Even books I've read a lot—Salem's Lot, The Lord of the Rings, A Prayer for Owen Meany—don't 'burn in' the same way. These are three books I pull off the shelf every few years and read over again, and they're familiar, yes, but they don't trigger the same anticipation of something I've written. I suspect it's because I've only ever read the book. On the other hand, something I've written, even if I haven't looked at it or thought about it in five years, is not something I've merely read, it's also something I functionally lived with for a period of time. It was in my head, front room and back, was part of my life for a while in a way that something I've 'just' read can not be. It's burned in my memory banks, the way you can burn in an image on your computer monitor or TV screen if you leave it on too long to the same thing.

Do you find you can ever read your work with truly 'fresh eyes'?

*almost universal. While there are those who don't do this, they seem far outnumbered.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Blathering On

So, Winter's Regret has been out for a few weeks now. Hopefully, you bought it, read it, and liked it. Hopefully, you liked my story, "An Unexpected Reunion." Being somewhat brain dead this week, I thought I'd share a little about how that story came about. I don't think there will be any great revelations here, but perhaps it will interest you. If not, have a nice weekend, and maybe I'll have a little more functionality next week.

Back in a time that's embarrassingly-long ago, an idea was born, an idea that grew into a manuscript I have mentioned here far too many times (hint: it's called PARALLEL LIVES). During the first two or three months I was drafting that novel, I was on fire. It seems new ideas and scenes were popping into my head constantly. It was almost like living with a movie or tape recorder inside my skull. Whatever else I was doing, the story was playing out, and when I had writing time, I was essentially transcribing what I had seen/heard/thought earlier.

At some point, the ideas dried up, but that was fine, because the story itself had run its course. And I did have a story (I should point out that a lot of these scenes just seemed to play out in my head independently of what had come before or what might come after; they were just ... scenes). But I also had too much. There were some scenes that were, functionally speaking, duplicates of other scenes. And some scenes that just didn't fit the way I thought they would when I first wrote them. Finally, there were some that I thought had to come out just because the thing was too long. "An Unexpected Reunion" fell into this category. I liked the chapter as it stood in the manuscript, but on further review, it wasn't essential. Out it came.

The tough part of turning that excerpt of a deleted chapter into a stand-alone short story was the fast that I still have plans on getting its parent published. So, I could have changed the names of the characters so they weren't people represented in the original manuscript and pretended it was its own thing, but I really didn't want to do that. Instead, I had to find a way to leave it open enough that, should (when) PL gets published, it all makes sense, but with enough of a story and conclusion that it leaves readers satisfied. I think I managed to do that.

That's it for me, hope you all have a nice weekend.

Hey! Because I'm always bad at this, if you're interested in buying Winter's Regret, it can be found

At Amazon or Smashwords or Createspace. Enjoy!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Your Questions--Answered!

Thank you all for the nice comments and kindly wishes last week. I do appreciate it. I'm no closer to finishing that post I alluded to on Friday, and the longer I go without finishing it, the less likely it is to get done. But maybe that's a good thing, because it was conceived largely in irritation and aggravation and that's usually not a good thing to showcase here. Or maybe it is.

So, I got two questions from you, and I will answer them. And then I might have a question or two of my own for you. We'll see. I'm feeling a bit run down today, so I might fall asleep by the time I answer the questions, which is okay, because you'll probably be sleeping, too.

First up, Sheena-kay Graham asks what a day in my life is like. Is there such a thing as a typical day? During the week I get up around 5:30, have the first of too many coffees, catch up on e-mails, blogs, sports and news. If it's Monday or Friday, I struggle to get the post finished (and, increasingly, leave it for later). At 6 I wake the Catbird. And again at 6:15, 6:30, 6:45 and 7:00. Somewhere in there I put lunch together. I take the dog and the Catbird to the bus stop (and consider myself lucky that my teenage daughter is okay with me waiting for the bus with her), and then I go to work.

Work is pretty varied. Sometimes, I'm in the office all day. Last week, I spent half a day doing career day for high schoolers. Another day, I was visiting farms trying to convince farmers to recycle the plastic they use for hay bales and the like. On my way home I pick up the Catbird from track, and then it's home. Sometimes I cook, sometimes my wife cooks. After dinner is when I try to get the bulk of my writing time in now. It feels more exciting when I'm living it than when I'm writing it down!

Jennifer Hillier wants to know what I like to do on a warm and sunny day. I tell you what, Jennifer, when we have one, I'll let you know! Actually, when it's warm and sunny, I like to be outside. Doing what? Depends. Loafing. Mowing the lawn. Taking a walk. Birding. All of it. Any of it.

Well, that's about it. Turns out I really don't have the energy to do more tonight. Thanks for stopping, thanks for reading, and thanks for not deciding to immediately unfollow!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Question Time

Weather update: we've had several days of above freezing temperatures, plus some actual rain! More important, this week I saw my first turkey vultures and red-winged blackbirds (both on the same day) of the season. The calendar says spring, and now the animals are starting to agree.

Yes, I've been a bit obsessive about the weather this year; I think it's just because it's been so damn cold for so long. I'll try to stop.

You are getting sleeeeeepy
Right, this is one of those weeks where I've been working on a post pretty much every day I've had time--and it's still not ready yet. And because of what my day is looking like (packed), I won't be able to get to it at all before tomorrow. So, in a blatant abrogation of my responsibilities as blogger, I turn the floor (sort of) over to you: what do you want to know? Ask anything and I promise to consider answering it in this space on Monday. Maybe, just maybe, by next Friday, the post I've been working on all week will be ready; more likely, I'll have moved on to some other topic.

That's it. Ask away, and have a great weekend!

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Rushing

Back in the long ago, shortly after I started this blog, I made a vow: I wouldn't be that guy. You know the type—the one that, after he gets the agent, is constantly playing The Agent card. Kind of like this:

I haven't had an agent very long, and I've done fairly well, so far, but once in a while, I'm going to have to do it. This weekend, I completed another set of revisions on the project still being known as BARTON'S WOMEN and sent them back to Carrie. When I opened up her latest marked up version, I sped through it, to get a sense of how many suggested changes or comments there were—there weren't. And, at the risk of divulging too much, Carrie's cover e-mail indicated that we would pretty soon be ready to start the next step, the submission process.

Now, let me tell you, the temptation was strong to just go and answer the one comment she had put in the MS, save it, and send it back. Submission time, woot woot! But I remembered advice I had given a week or two before to someone on Absolute Write: this person had completed a draft and was trying to give it a month or two of resting time, but…but they were worried someone else might have the idea, they were tempted to polish it now, etc., etc. My advice: DON'T. RUSH. Just like that, two sentence fragments, all caps. Thinking of that, I spent most of all day Saturday and Sunday going through the manuscript, and I'm glad I did. In addition to finding some typos that Carrie and I both missed, I found some other silly mistakes—missing periods, double periods, missing and extra words. I also cleaned up an inconsistency I had as to whether one of my characters had a brother and two sisters, or one each, and made some further fine tuning throughout. Odds are, none of these things would have been cause for rejection by an editor, but it's up to us to send out the best possible product we can.

The temptation to rush is even greater when one is near a major milestone, just as one sometimes rushes when they near the end of a long journey. I'm reminded of the fact that most car accidents reportedly occur within 3 miles of home. While this is likely due to the fact that most driving is probably done within 3 miles of home, I expect a good part of it is either due to being too comfortable on that familiar ground, or because of the "Hurry up, I need to use the bathroom" (or kickoff, or Project Runway) factor. I didn't want to rush and miss something important. I didn't want to be a statistic. Take time with your projects, friends, that's the best thing to do.


On a sad note, I saw in my blog feeder last night that author/blogger Cynthia Chapman Willis passed away earlier in the month following a long fight with lung cancer. I didn't know Cynthia, except through our respective blogs, but she always struck me as a positive individual. I always enjoyed her posts, and the personal way she interacted with everyone who stopped by her blog. Condolences to her friends and family.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Blood Will Out

While driving home Monday afternoon, I heard an interview on NPR's 'Fresh Air' that was so compelling to me that I had to seek it out later in the evening and listen to it (I had to make a couple of stops on the way home, so missed parts of it). It intrigued me so much that, on Tuesday, I sent a link to the story to a couple of friends I thought might be interested--and, I listened to it again. And her I am, several days after that, sharing it with you.

It's a 40-minute interview with author, Walter Kirn. Now, I've not heard of him before, but he's got at least two novels out, he's done pieces for various magazines, but he's pushing a new non-fiction book, Blood Will Out. The book is about Kirn's ten year friendship with a man he believed was Clark Rockefeller--yes, of that Rockefeller family. It turns out that, before he was Clark Rockefeller, Kirn's friend was Christopher Chichester, a British aristocrat of some sort who told friends he had an Aunt Elizabeth and family in Windsor. And somewhere around that time, he murdered one, maybe two, people.

What's most fascinating to me about the interview is not the kooky stories Kirn relates about his experiences with the eccentric millionaire he knew as Clark Rockefeller (and there are quite a few of those); instead, I'm interested in how a smart, Princeton-educated guy like Kirn got completely taken in by a total sham, how Rockefeller dropped enough truth in with his outrageous lies that you would never call him out for bullshitting you.

Not only do we have a need to tell stories, it seems we have a need to believe them, too.

Give it a listen, it can be found here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spritzy Spritz

Did you all see this? By now, you probably have, but in case you haven't yet, check out this little article here. Go ahead, I'll still be here when you get back.

So, what did you think? At 250 words per minute, I did pretty well. I was aware of a dropped word here or there, but I was able to keep up. At 350 words, however, there were a lot of drop out. I was very aware that I was missing words, but I was still mostly able to follow along. At 500 words per minute? I haven't got a clue. I felt like I was backwards reading. It was kind of like that sensation you get when you're sitting on a train that's moving forward, and there's a train right next to yours that starts to move forward just a little bit faster--it's a bit disorienting. And I still have no clue what I was reading.

Now, I'm sure if I worked with Spritz, I'd get the hang of it. I don't know if I'd ever cruise along at 1,000 wpm, but I'm sure I could do reasonably well. Still, when I saw the headline on the article--"You Can Read a Novel in 90 Minutes"--I immediately asked myself, "Why would I want to?"

Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm playing the same old anti-technology song, revealing myself once again to be the cranky old guy scaring kids off the lawn. It would be great to crank through some things at 1,000 word per minute--and be able to remember it! This is technology-assisted speed reading, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with it.

Yet reading novels is something that is done for pleasure. It's a leisure activity. Are we really so pressed for time as a society that we have to compact everything we do into ever-decreasing packets of time? I can't help wonder when someone is going to develop a 'speed sleeper' program that will allow us to get 8 full hours of shut-eye--REM included!--in half the time.

What do you think? What Spritz speed could you keep up with? What would you do with all that 'extra time' gained?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Here At Last

The calendar may say it's March, but at The Doubting Writer, winter is still going strong! That's right, folks, though St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner, we have ten below zero this morning! What else? Frozen lakes! Ice dams! Snow in the forecast! Our heating bills are insane!

Whew. Sorry, I just found myself channeling one of the old Crazy Eddie commercials. Anyway.....

It's finally here:

Included are stories by Mindy McGinnis, Cat Woods, Matt Sinclair, Paul Parisi, and some guy with a mustache and glasses. I'm thrilled to be in this anthology, and I can't wait for my copy to arrive--there are some excellent writers in there and I'm proud to have made the grade.

Where can it be found? I'm glad you asked:


Kindle from Amazon


Now, it somehow figures: Editor Matt Sinclair never said, "You're stories must take place in the season of the anthology." If he had, I would never get published by him. "Last Man Standing," from the summer anthology, takes place in spring. And "An Unexpected Reunion," my entry for Winter's Regret, takes place in summer. I'm not sure it will warm anyone's heart, however. I do hope people enjoy it.

Next week, I will actually have my act sufficiently together to do a giveaway. For now, if you absolutely can't wait, go on and buy it, and leave a review--you won't regret it.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, March 3, 2014


While writing this weekend I listened to One From the Vault, a commercial release of a Grateful Dead concert from August, 1975. The show was notable in part because it was one of only two times the band played Bob Weir's short instrumental, Sage & Spirit:

Sage and Spirit by Grateful Dead on Grooveshark

Sage & Spirit appeared on side 2 of the album, Blues for Allah, but I confess after probably the first or second time I listened to that album, I only listened to side 1. I loved side 1; side 2, not so much (note this was unusual behavior from me--in those days, skipping tracks on an album meant picking up the record player's tone arm and trying to put it down right at the beginning of the track you wanted, without scratching the record, or playing with fast forward and rewind on your tape deck. It's a lot easier now. Plus, I generally liked to listen to albums all the way through).

Since Sage & Spirit was only played twice in concert in thirty years, I was not particularly familiar with it. But as I listened, I heard interesting echoes of other Weir compositions, most notably, the distinctive opening to Lost Sailor, a song that would not be completed until four years after Sage & Spirit was recorded. There are other hints of other songs in there, as well.

As I worked on my WiP over the weekend, I find myself echoing myself, traveling over, if not exactly the same ground ground as before, then ground that is very familiar, very similar to where I've already been. I won't say too much about it here, now (we know how fragile those WiPs can be, right?), except this current piece deals to some extent with a person who is a bit of an outsider in his community. And as I look back over previously completed (or started) projects, I see this theme running through over and over again. Sometimes it's blatant and up front, other times it's more subtle, but it's pretty much always been there.

There seems to be a tendency for artists to explore certain topics or themes and images over and over again. I can't explain why I keep going back to 'the outsider' in my writing, except I find the idea interesting. There's a certain tension inherent in a character being on the outside looking in, especially when there's a subtle hostility that exists because of her outsider status. And, I think, it's a status we can all relate to: everyone's been an outsider at some point in their lives. It's something everyone can relate to.

I do wonder if I'll ever write my way out of this and find another theme, or if it's something that will unconsciously work its way into everything I write.

That's about it for me for today. How about you? Do you find yourself returning to a particular theme or idea over and over again? Have a great week!