Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Getting Back To It

I've not worked on Overboard in approximately a month.  I had over three weeks away from work and I try to avoid working on the novel at home - I don't want to lock myself in my office away from the family on days that I'm home.
Also, the hiatus should allow me to return to the project with fresh eyes.  Feedback from beta readers has led me to consider three options for going forward:  
A)  Continue to rewrite and refine the novel in its current form.
B)  Go with a MAJOR rewrite, basically a whole new second half.
C)  Shelve it and move on to another novel.
Right now I'm leaning toward Option A.

More later, especially on my Flogging.

Friday, March 7, 2008

More Mixed Reviews

My mom, dad and wife have finished reading the 2nd draft.  Reviews are mixed.

On the one hand they regard it as entertaining, reasonably well written (allowing for draft status) and evocative of the historical period.  On the other they tend to regard Silas, the protagonist, as hard to like, some of the plot turns near the end as relatively implausible, and some of the ending action confusing.


Some of their constructive criticism has coincided with nagging worries I've had that therefore have turned out to be well founded.  Some of their criticism has been a surprise.  Often I can explain what I meant and they say, 'Oh, I see that now', but the very act of needing to explain means I've failed as a story-teller. 

What I have thanked them for and thank them for here again is for their direct, non-sugarcoated comments.  Some might say that if your mom doesn't like it then it must really suck, but my mom has done exactly what I asked in voicing her criticism and the book will be much better for it.  Thanks mom - and dad, and SFF.

Back to the rewrites.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Back To It

I've finished my annual training for my real job and will be getting back to working on the novel tomorrow.

One thing that is rapidly becoming apparent is that I didn't budget enough time for rewrites into my one year write-a-novel schedule. I completed the first draft close to schedule, the second draft ahead of schedule, but I don't see how I can possibly get the whole book into polished, can't-be-made-better form by 31 March.

My mother has finished reading it - more on that on a later post - but my brother and sister are so busy they're barely started. That's another reason for the original overly-optimistic schedule - I didn't account for allowing beta readers the time they need to read it and get back to me with feedback.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sucky Synopsis

How's that for a mature, well-reasoned title for a blog post?

Write a synopsis for my book? No problem, right? After all, I wouldn't tackle writing a novel if I didn't think I could kinda sorta write decently, and who better to synopsize a book than the author?

Holy crap.

I researched and read articles and reviewed examples of agent-procuring synopses and got right to it. I produced Overboard Synopsis 1.0, printed it and handed it to my wife, SFF. She read it and summarized it with, "Well, there are a couple of sentences I thought were okay."


After peeling away that trying-to-be-nice layer she admitted frankly that she thought it sucked. So, we went over it together, line by line, and by the end of it I had to agree with her. So, I buckled down to the keyboard, took all the constructive criticism aboard and produced Overboard Synopsis 1.4, which she is reading as I type this.

While I await the verdict, here are some synopsis-related links:

Nathan Bransford on Writing Synopses

The verdict is in:  SFF allows as how the synopsis is significantly improved.

Why the big press when the novel itself is only in version 2.24?  It's because the PNWA contest requires a synopsis and the entry deadline is tomorrow.  At the very least I'll have some synopsis experience and a basis to start from once I consider the book finished and agent querying begins.

SFF is reviewing Synopsis 1.5 right now and I need to get crap done.

Monday, February 18, 2008


The Bug racing was a lot of fun, the paintball game was great and we had a nice boat ride down the river but caught no steelhead. Tomorrow is the ski day with my daughter. All of this is wonderful.

On the other hand, as I keep polishing the first chapter (actually the first part of the first chapter) I keep finding things. Heck, I found and killed three more passive voice passages (PVP's) that had somehow escaped detection up until now. Heck, its historical fiction (the setting is 1848-1849) so I can spend the rest of my life polishing it, right?

Writing the synopsis is harder than I expected. I wrote a first draft synopsis that I didn't think was TOO bad and the most encouraging thing my wife, SFF, could say about it was 'Well, I liked a few of the paragraphs."

I don't see how I can possibly have this thing ready to query by my original goal of 01 April. The pendulum is over on the pessimistic side.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reviews Pouring In

     Okay, that's a huge exaggeration.

     Mom called yesterday all excited to receive the manuscript.  It was an especially good surprise as we forward mail to them all the time (they're full-time RVers) and receiving a taped up cardboard mailer from me is normal.  She opened it and at first couldn't figure out what I had sent.  She says she can't wait to read it and promises to be completely biased in her review.
     My sister has started it but is so freaking busy that it will likely be a few days before she gets past the first page.
     Realizing that it would take a while for her to finish and forward it I unclamped my wallet and printed another copy which went out in the mail to my brother today.  Mom and sister promise to keep silent until brother has the fun of being surprised by it.
     Sneezer is further than anyone and his comments and criticism (all welcome) have already started to come in.  The best news is that he says he likes it.
     What I would like to do most of all right now is work on it, but a break would be for the best and my work and social schedule demand a break right now.  I'm significantly behind on studying for recurrent training, Sunday is a morning autocross followed by an afternoon paintball game, Monday is fishing with my son, Tuesday is skiing with my daughter, Wednesday is work, Thursday and Friday are ground school, I have the weekend off then Monday through Wednesday are simulators.  
     Somewhere in all that I need to get my studying done AND polish the first chapter AND write a stunningly effective synopsis for the PNWA contest, the entry deadline for which is one week away.
     Synopsis writing will be the subject of another post.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Secret Is Out

     I just got off the phone with my sister - the secret is out, she received her copy of the manuscript.
      She's excited about it because she had no idea it was coming (good job kids in keeping mum, especially over Christmas with the whole family at her house).  She reads a lot and should be a good reviewer.
     I'm excited because it's one of the significant milestones of the project.  I've been working on it for almost a year and through all the outlining and thinking about it and dreaming about it and writing down ideas in my notebook and spending months in getting it all down on the laptop this is one of the moments I've really been looking forward to - surprising folks with the fact that I'm writing a book.   
     Not just writing one, but I actually have a hard copy of the second draft in their hands.  As she and I talked about on the phone, it's easy to say you're writing a book just as it's easy to say that you're getting in shape to climb Mt. Everest, it's getting around to doing it that's the hard part.
       Another thing:  Just because I have completed the first rewrite doesn't mean that I count myself as having written a book.  It has to be as good as I can make it; I have to lean back from the keyboard and realize that I just can't think of a way to make it better.  At that point I will claim to have written a book.  
     A published book?  That's a different animal.
     So, now I'm waiting for the phone call from my folks.  My brother has to wait until my sister has finished reading that copy.  Sneezer, of course, knows its coming, but as he's in Iowa he may not receive his copy until later this week - or  later next month, depending on how muddy the roads are to Granger and how the stage coaches are doing.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Overboard Copies Posted via USPS

After squashing lingering doubt I decided that Overboard version 2.1 was good enough that I could show it to family & friends without my toes curling too badly.  Accordingly I created Overboard 2.1P,  which is the print version with single line spacing, Times New Roman 12 point font and page breaks for each chapter.  Thus configured the novel clocks in at 281 pages.  Four copies were printed and placed in cheap ring binding.

Today marks approximately 11 months since I started writing it and today I took three of the copies and mailed them away - I couldn't get them back now if I tried.  Perhaps I should change the name of the blog as  the project will no longer be a secret once the recipients open up their copies.

My wife, SFF, has started to read the 2.1P version.  As always I can't wait for her feedback and as for her she's been looking forward to reading it as a coherent whole.  Previously she read the rough draft in five separate chunks with months between each as I wrote them.  

My current tasks:  Prepare for recurrent training for my real job, fill research holes in the novel, polish the first chapter & write a synopsis for the PNWA contest, and wait for phone calls from people for whom a book manuscript in the mail from me will be a big surprise.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

First Rewrite Complete!

The first rewrite is complete, Overboard now exists in version 2.0.

I also completed the 2nd Draft well ahead of schedule.  Some stats:

Today's goal:    84.9% complete
Today's result:  100.0% complete

2nd Draft originally scheduled to be complete 15 Feb, actually complete 09 Feb.

1st Draft word count:  206,300
2nd Draft word count: 190,500

Percent reduction 1st Draft to 2nd:  8.7%

Today I did some formatting for better readability and as I type this the first of four copies is coming off the printer.  Copies should be in the mail Monday to my mother/father, brother/sister, and Sneezer.  Only Sneezer knows about the project.

WHICH MEANS that my Secret Project is about to be secret no longer.  After approximately 11 months of working on the book it will be going out into the world, all naked and new and vulnerable.  I've been looking forward to this for a long time, and all of a sudden I feel trepidation.

To quote Marty McFly, "What if they don't like it?  What if they think I'm no good?  I just don't think I could handle that type of rejection."

Yes, I can handle that type of rejection, but it would be rather a bummer.  Still, brutally honest feedback is what I want.

Mom, Dad, Janet, Daren, Sneezer - if you click back on this blog and see this post after you read the manuscript........yes, I want your honest, no-holds-barred opinions.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

'Nother Progress Report

I've been hitting it pretty hard, trying to get a day or more ahead of schedule.  The stats:

Today's goal:   78.3% rewrite complete
Today's result: 84.0%

The word count has crept up.  At 70% rewrite complete it was 193,000, today at 84% the count is 193,600.  BUT, there is a fairly big scene I've almost reached that will be cut, thereby dropping the count back down.  

I'm almost decided to submit to the PNWA contest, the only real drawback is that after completing the 2nd draft I will need to further polish the first 25 pages for submission AND write a synopsis, all during the week that I need to be preparing for recurrent training for my real job.


Did anyone notice that I didn't win Nathan Bransford's first page contest?  I did, but that was expected.  I must say that I admired the 6 finalists, although there was one that I didn't particularly care for.  The one I voted for to win did so.

Several writing styles among the finalists were particularly impressive and I thought, 'Wow, I need to be able to write like that', then upon further thought I realized that I don't.  I just need to write the way I write, then get better and better at writing that way.  


Monday, February 4, 2008

Monday, Progress, Critiques

Here I am doing my best to stick with my I'll-always-post-on-Monday pledge.

After getting unexpected but appreciated brief critiques as a result of entering Nathan Bransford's contest I recently signed up for a free critique (see last post) and now I'm thinking of entering a literary contest.

The Pacific Northwest Writer's Association has an annual contest which closes for entries on February 22nd.  What intrigues me is not the chance of winning (slim at best), but the fact that they promise two critiques for each entry.  

Feedback is what I'm craving at this point.  I will be getting feedback soon from family and friends, but I'm concerned that they'll be too, um, nice about it if they think it sucks.  They may even  honestly think that its better than Lonesome Dove and say so, but who can trust a mother's judgement to be unbiased when reading her son's work?

OBTW, I've read all kinds of warnings about watching out for scam and bullshit writer's contests, but the PNWA appears to be legitimate - they've been around as a writer's group for decades.  The entry fee is $50 - are two semiprofessional critiques of the first chapter worth it?


Today's rewrite goal:  68.3% complete
Actually completed:    69.9%

Yes, once again ahead of schedule.  The problem with doing 3.3% each and every day is there is no room for unforeseen circumstances (last Friday) and no room for a fishing day (promised son) or ski day (promised daughter).  I need to get further ahead.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Another Critique Opportunity

Clicking around various writing links I came across another opportunity for critical feedback.

Flogging the Quill  is a site that is offering to critique the first page of a submitted first chapter.  It appears to me to be someone simply offering help to writers. The reviewer promptly emailed a response that it might be a while before he got to me as his queue of submissions is getting longer.  You must agree to have your submission publicly critiqued on his site.

Status Update:

On Friday, due to unavoidable circumstance I was unable to work on the rewrite for the first time in 15 days and as a result fell behind schedule.  I made it up this weekend and got back on track.

Goal for 03 Feb:  65% complete
Actual result:       65% complete

1st Draft Word Count:  205,900
Current Word Count:    193,100

My schedule calls for the 2nd draft to be done by 15 Feb.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The First Page as Entered

I should have done this sooner -  below is the first page of Overboard as entered in Nathan Bransford's Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge.  I have since made a few minor changes, but this is it exactly as I copied it out of my rough draft and pasted it into Nathan's blog:
The morning started like any other on our farm outside St Joseph, Missouri . Dawn lightened the gloom in our cabin, cocks restless to leave the roost began to crow, and the smell of my sister’s cooking wafted from below. I lay on our corn shuck bed in the loft hoping for another few minutes of drowsiness, but I could hear my father clumping down the ladder to the kitchen. He would soon be calling for my brother and I to bestir ourselves.

Drowsiness was fast evaporating anyway as I became conscious of an uncomfortable chill. My kid brother Caleb, scrappy even while sleeping, had managed as usual to hog all of the old quilt that constituted our bedding. To pay him back I rolled off the bed, grasped the edge of the quilt with both hands, and gave it a vicious jerk. The results were better than average as he shot clean off the bed and landed with a satisfying thump. Before he had time to untangle the quilt or his wits I had thrown my shirt and britches to the floor of the cabin and was down the ladder.

My sister Angeline turned from stirring eggs at the stove. “You know that Caleb’s just going to lay for you all day to get you back, so why do you do that to him?”

“Because the little bastard steals the covers every night, you know that.”

“Yes, I know that. I also know that if he was your size you wouldn’t dare, just as you wouldn’t dare exercise your filthy mouth like that if Pa were here.”

“Pa’s out sitting on the family throne so I’ll use my mouth as I see fit and Caleb will just have to look out for himself - as will you.”

As I said the last words I pinched her rear with one hand one hand and a piece of bacon with the other . I was pivoting to make my escape when suddenly my breath left my body in a whoosh and I found myself doubled over and wondering why it was so difficult to breathe all of a sudden. Painfully turning my head to the right I perceived a pair of dirty bare feet.

“I ain’t so little anymore, brother, and I figure I just might as well get you back now as wait for later,” said the darling little red haired Caleb, just 15 years old but already approaching six feet tall and well muscled from farm work. He was delighted with my gasping attempts to get air back in my lungs and his eyes were shining in anticipation of a fight. “How’s your day going so far, Silas?”

Comments and criticism are welcome.  What doesn't kill me will make me stronger.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mixed Reviews

I entered Nathan Bransford's Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge, which marks the first time that anyone other than my wife, SFF, has seen anything of my Secret Project.  As I write this Mr. Bransford has not announced the finalists or winners, and I'm not expecting to find my entry in either category, but I have received critiques from voluntary 3rd party commentators.  The reviews are best described as mixed.  

"I read the whole thing, but the voice irks me.  How old is the narrator?  He sounds like he's at least in his 20's.  I mean, who uses the word 'bestir'?  For  that matter, why would he pinch his own sister's behind?  That's like kissing your sister, but worse.  Maybe it's just a very unique character, but all of his actions and mannerisms seemed 'off' to me."

What I'm taking away from critique:  Silas, the first-person protagonist, is 19.  Perhaps I need to work on his voice to more accurately reflect his age.  'Bestir' will likely stay, the setting is 1848 and I like the sound of the word in that context.  'Pinch his own sister's behind' - that was something that had been nagging me without being able to put a finger on it.  He now pinches her arm.  Lastly, I hope he's a unique character, we'll see how he strikes others.

From OxyJen:
"This is engaging and likeable, although the conversation with Angeline reads as an 'As you know, Bob' conversation.  I would want to see something resembling a plot open up soon, but I would read on..."

What I'm taking away from the critique:  First, encouragement because it was positive.  Second, I see the point about the dialogue and it has been (hopefully) improved.  With regard to the plot, well it starts to show up after the first page.

"I'm always a sucker for a story set in any sort of small town/farm/otherwise rural area.  So this caught my eye.  Trying to be objective here, I think the writing is good but not great.  Interesting but not interesting enough.  Would I keep reading?  Maybe.

What I'm taking away from the critique:  Encouragement.  'Good but not great' I can live with for now.  'Interesting but not interesting enough' causes me to look at that first page again, but I may rely on the following pages to develop more interest from the reader.  We'll see.

I'm hoping for more critiques and may well post the first page here in hopes of more feedback.

2nd Draft Stats:

Today's goal:  55.1
Today's complete:  56.4

Still ahead of schedule!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

First Page Contest & Critiques

I entered the first page of my novel in Nathan Bransford's Surprisingly Essential First Page Contest.  The contest has ballooned to over 400 entries as of this writing, and there is a bit of controversy over other bloggers critiquing entries to Nathan's contest on their own blogs.  Nathan has attempted a compromise by asking that people refrain from critiquing entries unless folks specifically give their okay to do so.

I gave my okay, and this post is to invite anyone who has migrated over here with feedback on my entry to critique away - I very much want as much input as I can get.  

Nathan Bransford's blog is here and also in my sidebar of links.


I've been getting more hits on the blog lately so I'm thinking that a brief recap is in order.

I've always enjoyed writing and over the years I've written short stories that I've never attempted to publish, some magazine articles that have sold and some that haven't, and an annual Christmas letter that friends and family seem to appreciate.  I've toyed with the idea of writing a novel for years, and finally realized that I need to either actually do it or wait for the next lifetime.

So...I decided to go for it.  I decided that one year was a reasonable time frame to write a novel - the last thing I wanted to do was have it drag on and be three quarters finished five years later.

I started in March 07 and blocked out the year (actually 13 months) into various goals.  The story is a journey for my protagonist and I set dates for each major stop in the narrative, with a rough-draft-complete goal of mid-November (the rough was finished mid-December).  After a holiday break I started on the first rewrite with a completion goal of 15 Feb, which requires 3.3% per day of progress.  Upon completion of the second draft I'll send it to family and friends, get feedback, and continue to rewrite and polish until it is as good as I can make it by 31 Mar 08.  The first query letters are scheduled to go out 01 Apr, assuming that I feel it is good enough to warrant the effort.

So, why the blog?  Two reasons.

First, the blog serves as a kind of journal of the project, which I thought would be fun to look back upon when finished.  Second, and more importantly, it serves as a public declaration that I intend to see this through. By throwing down and then picking up my own gauntlet in front of the whole internet I put pressure on myself to complete the project as planned.

Second Draft Current Stats:

Today's goal:       48.5%
Today's status:    48.6% in work

So, I'm ahead of schedule, which is still unfamiliar territory.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Progress and Promise

Yesterday's rewrite goal:  41.9% complete
Yesterday's result:     42.8% complete

Glory be, I'm ahead of schedule.

Word count:  194,800

The word count is not falling as fast as it was earlier in the rewrite.  I think reasons for that are that the further I go into the first draft the better the writing gets, the better I know the characters, and I have a much better idea where the story is going so there is less crap that needs to be cut.  On the other hand, my steely resolve to ruthlessly pare the story to the bare essentials is faltering - I find myself leaving scenes that could or should be cut because I, well, I like the scenes.

I really need to stick with what I told myself while writing the first draft and seeing the word count balloon:  Make the story the best it can be and to hell with word count and '100,000 is the most marketable size' conventional wisdom.

On a different subject, I've been asked if I only post on Mondays.  No, I've been posting when the mood strikes, but a schedule is a good idea so I hereby commit to posting no less than every Monday.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Progress Report

Okay, so I blocked out a day-to-day, 1st edit goal schedule in order to complete the rewrite by 15 Feb.

Accordingly, I should be 22.1% through the edit as of today and I am instead 19.1% complete. I'm behind.

The word count has dropped from 205,900 at the start of the edit to 197,500 as of right now.

Its getting better.

On a different note, I came across the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association, a writers group that has been around for a few decades. Their annual writing contest closes for entries next month and I'm considering submitting Overboard - they promise two critiques of each entry.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Goal Schedule/Rewrite Stats

I went back to one of the first posts of the blog and was startled to find that my original timeline called for the first rewrite to start 08 January 08. The rewrite actually started 14 Jan. Not bad.

It also called for a 15 February goal of finishing the rewrite and 22 Feb for sending the manuscript off to family and friends. Upon further review I see no reason to change that, and it would fit well with my recurrent training which will start 21 Feb. So far so good.

So I started the rewrite today and got to page 13 out of 718 (as currently formatted) in about 4 hours. Using those numbers as a rough guide, I will need about 200 hours for the rewrite, which calls for about 6 hours a day of rewriting.


Its hard to imagine that happening in a part time scenario with my policy of not working at home. Dang.

Further stats:

The first draft finished at 205,900 words. After the first 13 pages or so of editing the 2.0 draft stands at 203,900. The shrinkage rate will probably decrease as I go because I think I got better as I went in the writing of the first draft.

Stephen King in On Writing says that his first draft usually shrinks by 10% or so on edit. Using that guideline the book should finalize around 185,000. Still quite long based on blog postings by literary agents, but that's another worry.

Getting back to the goal schedule, the original timeline called for novel complete by 31 March and the first batch of query letters posted on 01 April. That would fit well, as it turns out, for my 01 April vacation and a second week of April school that I may be attending.

I'm just going to have to hit it very, very hard and make those goals.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Back in the Saddle

Its been quite a while since a blog post but lots of stuff has happened and progress has been made.

1. SFF finished reading the last chunk, liked the ending, and as usual has some cogent comments and constructive criticism.

2. Then there was Christmas, the trip to San Jose for our extended family Christmas, then 5 days off to start the new year - including our first ever New Year's Day Polar Bear Jump - then I got sick for about five days with no energy to do much of anything.

3. I put a hint about the Secret Project in the Ranch Reporter Christmas letter. Only one person (Teri F) has asked about the secret.

4. The holidays and all have put me just about back on the original Goal Schedule, including the planned writing hiatus between completion of the 1st draft and the start of the first rewrite.

5. I have recurrent training Feb 22, so the new sub-goal is to complete the 1st rewrite by 13 Feb, which should give me adequate time to prepare for recurrent, do it, and then get on to the next rewrite.

So, if I make this new sub-goal, people should receive their drafts and the Secret Project will be secret no longer sometime late next month. I am REALLY looking forward to it.