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Archive for April, 2007

Name That Novel

I’ve decided to create an interactive challenge for my blog. Every Monday I’ll post the opening of a book, every Friday I’ll post a last line (not from the same book), and you all get to take a swipe at guessing the novel in which they are found.

To be fair, if the opening sentence is really unhelpful, I’ll give you a bit more. And if there’s an introduction or a prologue, I reserve the right to decide whether the story really begins there or not. In the latter case, the “opening” will come from Chapter One instead. Don’t worry, I won’t be tricksy – or at least, if I am I’ll let you know about it ahead of time.

Monday answers will be posted in the Friday edition, and vice versa, so you’ll have a few days to make guesses.

I should also mention that until I exhaust the reserve of fiction on my very own shelves, you can probably find the novel in question on this list of the books in our fiction collection.

Feel free to chime in with questions – copy and pasting into Google for a search is generally frowned upon, and you get extra points for knowing title and author *without* having to double check. Not that I’ll know if you lie about it, but hey.

On to the first challenge:

It was the evening on which Messieurs Debienne and Poligny, the managers of the Opera, were giving a farewell gala performance to mark their retirement.

Name that Novel!

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The Colorado Weather Gremlins smiled on me this morning. After a week of cold nasty rain/sleet/hail/snow, we’re sitting pretty in the mid-70’s with a high of 85 predicted for tomorrow. Everything’s green and glowing from all the rainfall, and there are still streaks of snow up in the foothills, which makes it all very picturesque. Apparently this is fairly normal for spring up here except that it’s about four weeks late. Who am I to argue?

In light of the beautiful morning, I broke out the new bike shoes and took that Brewing Ride I’ve been wishing for all week.

Unfortunately, half the Denver Metro area did the same thing – at the same time, of course. Since there were too many people on the path for the first part of the ride for me to talk out my plots (too busy dodging people with their dogs on those stupid extender leashes – seriously, who really thinks that’s appropriate for a bike path? Hiking in the woods in a park that mandates -and- enforces pets on leashes, I can see. Letting your animal run hither and thither potentially in front of passing bikes is just asking for trouble. I promise when my husband rides by he’s gonna hurt Rover if Puppy Shmuppy gets in the way, so get yourself a real leash. Sorry. End rant.) Anyway, as I was dodging pets and small children and NOT talking to myself out loud, I reflected on the fact that my work-at-home part-time job spoils me. Usually, I ride in the dead middle of a weekday. I wave at septuagenarians and secretaries out for a lunch break walks, and the occasional pair of moms pushing strollers. Weekends on the bike path are crazy. I’m swearing them off from now on.

At any rate, the traffic thinned out after I took the turn to ride up the hill to the top of the dam. I couldn’t believe all those families with pets and kids didn’t want to climb a mile and a half in the sun, either, but there you have it.

It gave me a chance to talk to myself about my book, and I figured out that the whole reason I was having trouble putting that scene into words is because it shouldn’t be shown at all. All the info can be conveyed in conversations surrounding the incident – I don’t need a whole meeting set up with me pulling puppet strings to make sure everyone says what they ought, and more interesting the other way, as well.

Now I just need to sit my tush down and write it…

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Fighting The Elements

Have you ever noticed that just when you get in the right mood to go outside and exercise, everything conspires against you?  I had so hoped to have a nice, long bike ride this morning, but when I got up it was 40 degrees and raining.  Not just raining, mind you, but pouring (for Colorado) with whipping wind.  Yesterday this storm system dropped golf-ball sized hail a bit east of here, and they’re saying it’ll turn into snow tonight.

It’s crazy.

I mention this primarily because I often brew while riding my bike outside.  Having the distraction of pedaling, steering (you know, not hitting any of the power walkers on the bike path), and that tinge of burning muscles frees my mind to really roll ideas around, see where the holes are with various potential approaches, and work through the best way to flesh out a scene or series of scenes.

And since I need more brewing at this point in my writing, a power-brew bike ride seemed like just the thing, until I woke up and realize I’d be very cold, soaking wet, and probably sick by the time I brewed enough to make it worthwhile.

Riding inside on my trainer never has quite the same effect.  I’d consider heading over to the elliptical trainer in the complex fitness center if I knew I’d have the place entirely to myself.

You see, part of the reason my power-brewing works is because I talk out loud as I work through things.  Most people on the bike path don’t notice because they’re walking and I’m riding, and I pause in my debates as I call, “Passing on your left!”  But in the fitness center I have the distinct feeling I’d make a fool of myself, induce someone to call the authorities to have me carted away, or both.

This doesn’t mean I’m stuck or blocked, just that it’ll probably be an extra day or two of back burner brewing until I’m ready to tackle this rather pivotal scene.  Would’ve been nice to bike through it a little faster, but I haven’t got much choice.

Do you ever use physical activity to channel or focus your mental activity?

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Chapter Four of Maria V. Snyder’s ‘Assassin Study’ has been posted here. This is good stuff – Chapter Five will conclude the mini-story, and then we’ll still all have to wait until March 2008 for Fire Study.

It’s a shame, really.

If you’d like to read another great first-person fantasy in the meantime, why don’t you check out Carol Berg? She’s got eight fantastic ready-to-read novels (two series and one stand-alone), which have garnered her several awards and a prime spot on my fiction shelves. AND her latest book, Flesh and Spirit, is hitting bookstores in a mere 12 days. That’s right, May 1. I’ve heard very good things from several friends who got their hands on ARCs, and my pre-ordered copy will be waiting for me to pick up as soon as I can possibly manage it. Read an excerpt here!

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Having expressed my thoughts on writing each and every day, and the difference between my personal writing and brewing days, it’s worth mentioning that sometimes a writing day progresses through the pre-brewed plot at a faster rate than anticipated. In this case, a writing day must sometimes morph into a brewing day.

Your mileage may vary, but if I haven’t brewed my plot points at least a little bit before trying to write, anything I do manage to write is aimless drivel, and my time is better spent elsewhere.

Today, I decided to spend my unexpected brewing time tackling a quilting project I’ve been meaning to finish.

Creativity often begets creativity.

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On Not Writing Every Day

It’s hard to describe how much better your outlook becomes when things are moving along on schedule.  When things are ahead of schedule (as they are right now) I find myself getting downright rebellious about some things.

I’m learning more and more about my personal writing process – what works, and what doesn’t – and I’m finding that the age-old advice that says “always write, every day” just doesn’t work for me.

I write best in bursts – four to five thousand words in a day or two, followed by several days of no writing at all. Those days give me a chance to think things through, to stew and brew, as it were.  I’m finding that if I try to push myself to hit a word count on my Brewing Days, I’m so unhappy with the results that they get deleted in revisions anyway.  I don’t have an issue with keeping my head in the story.  The story’s always there, teasing at the edges.

Having designated Writing Days also helps me keep things straight – on Writing Days I don’t worry about silly things like when I’m going to find time this week for paying the bills or getting to the grocery store.  I get to focus on the important stuff: my made-up people in my made-up world.  The rest can shove off until my Brewing Days, when the whole point is to let the story simmer on my mental backburners.

Anybody else work this way?

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Finding The Flow

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks lately, with many distractions from my writing. I find that distractions tend to accumulate, causing inertia on so many levels it’s hard to comprehend, but one of the measurable ones is the drop in my daily word count – or daily editing progress. Usually it’s my husband who finally confines me to my chair and tells me to stop whining and get back to work, but even then it can be very daunting to get started.

Tobias Buckell posted this link in his blog a few weeks ago, and it struck a chord with me. Yes, it’s aimed at computer/software programmers, but the concentration difficulties are very similar. I’ve tried the “work for X amount of time, take a designated break, get back to work” method before, but it almost always falls apart after a few cycles because as I’m taking a break, I get distracted by something (ooh, shiny!) and it ends up being two hours before I remember I ought to have been working. What can I say? I’m blond, and not afraid to admit it.

The difference here, to me, is that John Richardson recommends setting a timer for work time and break time. And not just any time – 48 minutes of work, and 12 minutes of break. I’d argue that other combinations would work, but the point of this is specificity.

It’s easy to say “I’ll take a ten minute break” and let it turn into 15 or 20 minutes… or two hours. If I’m taking a 12 minute break, I’m taking a 12 minute break. I know I won’t look at the clock at the right time, so I set my kitchen timer, clip it to my pocket so I can hear it even if I wander over to the mailboxes, and it calls me back to work at the right time. I get 12 minute intervals throughout the day to do things like tidy up the living room or rotate the laundry, so even the thoughts about the non-writing tasks I need to complete don’t intrude on my working time. 12 minutes is enough time to do two small chores AND brew myself the next cup of tea. It’s a long time, really, and sometimes I find myself ready to get back to work before my break is done. Then I feel like I’m getting luxury time to just sit and do nothing, without shirking any of my various home or working duties.

Also, when the writing’s not going well, all I really have to commit to is 48 minutes of typing. I can handle that. I’d probably waste that time watching morning talk shows anyway, and not doing anything productive, so I might as well waste the time pretending to work. If, by the end of that time, I only have 200 words – or 20 words – and I’m still struggling, then so be it. I’ve written, and I can go on about my day guilt-free knowing it would have been horrible to punish myself by sitting at the desk trying to put together words that just wouldn’t cooperate. But usually by the time my timer beeps that first time, I’ve found my groove again and can’t wait to get back from my 12 minute break to keep working.

It’s funny how that works – how your brain can forget why you were so excited about a project, and needs to be reminded.

On the days when I’ve used the timer method (and I’ll admit it hasn’t been every day – I’m still getting used to it) I find that I get more done in general, not just more writing, and that’s a fantastic payoff no matter which angle you come at it from.

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