Archive for August, 2007

Litlove’s Meme

Litlove has created a new meme, and it looks interesting (no surprise, considering the source), so I think I will perform.

List some of your favorite words.  Sassafras.  Preternatural.  Glaciation.  Sussurant.  Gossamer.  Baroque.  Cathedral.

What’s your favorite maxim or proverb?  “God hates a coward.”  Stephen King.  A word of explanation: King (and I) use this to justify doing something sort of dumb, like, in my case, setting out to write a big old novel.

What is your favorite quotation?  Aside from the obvious “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” I like, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.”

What is your favorite first line of a novel?  “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter”

Give an example of a piece of description that’s really pleased you in your reading lately.  “Back in Africa, where everything began, even before people were painting cave lions and bears on rock walls, even then they were telling stories, about monkeys and lions and buffalo: big dream stories.  People always had those proclivities.  That was how they made sense of their worlds.”  Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys.

Which five writers do you particularly admire for their use of language?  John Updike.  Charles Dickens.  Kazuo Ishiguro.  Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Emily Dickinson.   Only five?!

And are there writers whose style you really dislike?  I apparently have blocked them all out of my memory.

What’s the key to really fine writing, in your opinion?   Live the lyrical possibilities of language, plunge deeply into the flow of words, and then write them truthfully, honoring the inspiration with words of blazing fire and plunging waterfalls.

Join in the fun.

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Back Home

I dropped Muttboy off for his surgery this morning and he was able to come home this evening.  While he was under, we had the vet take off a floppy dewclaw on his hind leg as well as the tumor on his chest.  He has a nifty purple bandage around his foot now, but the incision on his chest is very visible.  He still looks quite drugged, and his eyes are droopy, dilated, and runny. Right now he’s having a little bit of trouble getting comfortable, but he is so groggy that he can’t keep his head up.

It is good to have him back home.  All day long, I kept expecting to see him around the house.  When I go downstairs for something, he moves from his position in my study to the top of the stairs to wait for me to come back up.  It startled me to begin climbing the stairs and not see that big furry lump at the top.  Tonight, we had some bread with dinner.  I always save the last bite of bread for Muttboy, and it felt very strange to eat his portion.

I had a very hard time dropping him off this morning.  I took his little stuffed chipmunk along so he would have his friend with him during his ordeal.  When the vet tech took the toy and led Muttboy off to an examining room, I lost it and had to rush out to the car.  It took me a couple of minutes before I got myself under control enough to drive home and begin the very long wait.

He looks like he will recover well, though we are still waiting on the biopsy.  I am not sure why I have such a hard time with this situation.  I think if I went to the doctor and heard that I had cancer I would be much calmer.  When it comes to my dog, though, I’m a wreck.  The other day I was in a bookstore, and I was paging through one of Jon Katz’s books on dogs (I couldn’t buy it because I knew it would make me too sad).  In one chapter he talks about the intense connection that some people feel with their dogs, to the point that their canine relationships are more important than their human ones.  I wonder about this.  What is it about dogs that engages some of us so deeply?  How can a dog’s friendship mean as much to us as a human one?  I will probably write more about this.

In the meantime, another Muttboy picture.


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On the Market

I played office today, printing, collating, organizing, stamping and stuffing envelopes.  My novel is now out on the market, trying to entice some agent.  I sent out three straight queries (letter only), four queries with extras (synopsis and sample pages), one e-mail query, and one electronic submission query.  This last may sound like another e-mail query, but it is somewhat different.  A couple of agencies have electronic forms that ask for certain information and then allow authors to upload sample material.  I like this idea and hope that more agencies will see the wisdom of soliciting material this way.

Querying is difficult, and it took me as long to put together the letters and write a synopsis as it did to complete both the third and fourth drafts of the MS.  In a future post, I’ll pass on what I learned about the process.  Most of the information any potential author would need about queries is available on the interwebs, but I did learn a lot in the process and could offer some streamlined advice.

In the meantime, here is one of my favorite recent pictures of me and Muttboy.


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We have a partial diagnosis for Muttboy. He has a soft tissue sarcoma, which is a non-specific name for a variety of different types of cancerous tumors. Some of them are more malignant and serious than other types, so I’m hoping that the post-op biopsy shows that it’s the less serious type. He has his surgery on Tuesday morning, and he should be able to come home that night.

I am more than a little anxious about this. I’m going to be spending a lot of time with Muttboy for now, so my posts will be shorter and even more sporadic than usual. Wish him well. dscf1198.jpg

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When Dorothy and I were in New Haven last week, we went to an interesting used bookstore/cafe.  Among my finds was Jean Heglund‘s Into the Forest.  This is Heglund’s first novel, and, although this does show in some minor ways, Into the Forest is a very good book.

Seventeen-year-old Nell narrates the novel in a fine, clear, and often lyrical voice that is perhaps somewhat too precocious.  This minor quibble aside, Nell’s ability to describe what she sees and feels is by far the largest of the novel’s many strengths.  When Nell describes returning to her parents’ garden, digging her hands deep in the soil, she is able to make her readers feels the moist, crumbly earth with her.

Nell and her older sister Eva live outside the small northern California town of Redwood.  Their house is at the end of a long dirt road, and hundreds of acres of protected forest surround their property.  When the novel opens, the two young women are alone, and we gradually learn that a series of events has toppled the shuddering capitalistic base of society.  What economic apocalypse could not accomplish, biological apocalypse does, as rumors of plagues driven by the scarcity of resources reach the sisters.  In their last trip into town with their father, they discover that there is no gas available, most of the stores are shut, and many of the people have disappeared.  Scrounging what they can from an echoing, ghostly Fastco warehouse store, the three hole up in their sanctuary outside of town.  There tentative security is further threatened when their father, a joyously cynical counter-culture type, dies in an accident.

Nell and Eva spend their time blithely ignoring the harsh realities of survival while their supplies dwindle. Eva dances for hours each day, so that when civilization returns, she can resume her life as a ballerina.  Nell determinedly plows through the encyclopedia, hoping that she will know enough to impress the admissions committee at Harvard.  As the days go on, they keep dreaming of electricity, gasoline, malls, companions, and all of the other trappings of the old American life.

When Eli, Nell’s crush, shows up with rumors of a renaissance in Boston, Nell is ecstatic and tries to convince Eva to make the trip across the country.  Nell decides to leave her sister, but immediately returns to their secluded and deluded life.  After another tragedy strikes them when Eva is raped by a man passing by, Nell awakens from her dreams of civilized life.  She begins working in the garden with a desperate fury.  She learns about edible native plants.   In one of the most gripping set pieces, she stalks and kills a wild boar.

The two sisters eventually decide to move into the forest permanently, to give up their desperately tenacious hold on what is left of a dead civilization and live off the land.  In a highly symbolic but also practical act, they burn their house to the ground and move to their new home, a hollowed out stump of a giant redwood tree.

The novel succeeds in many ways, not the least of which is its ability to examine and complicate ecofeminist ideals.  The young women are neither simply the guardians of culture as one theory posits, nor are they the embodiment of “mother” nature, as another theory has it.  When Eli wants to travel to Boston, he represents in some ways male culture, but Nell’s intense desire for the same thing complicates such a simple reading.  When the sisters return to the forest, they represent female nature, but Nell salvages the index of her beloved encyclopedia so she will have a list of all of the things important to western culture.

I have a fondness for post-apocalyptic literature, as I know many others do (witness the popularity of McCarthy’s The Road).  I am not sure if it is the allure of starting over without civilization’s constraints, or if it is the sublime danger at a distance that is more appealing.  Whatever the reasons, I did find Heglund’s novel very satisfying.

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I have read something like ten books since I last wrote a post about one of the ostensible focuses (foci?) of my blog.  Some of them I really liked (Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere), and one I just could not finish (Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow).  However, with my own novel completed and the query process looming, my worries about Dorothy, and worries about Muttboy’s health, I have not been able to write about books.  I will get back to that, though, once I get my stressed mind under control. I also have some general lit-related posts brewing in my mind.

For the past couple of years, Muttboy has had a strange little growth on the skin of his chest.  It started off small, about the size of an insect bite–and that’s what we thought it was for a long time–but has grown disturbingly larger.  It does not seem to bother him at all, except when I get anxious and pick at it.  He hates to be picked at.  Petted and loved, yes, picked at, no.  The vet was not concerned when I first showed it to her a bit over a year ago, and I more or less forgot about it.

It has been getting larger, though, and my worries have grown along with it.  I took him to the vet today to have it examined.  He got picked at a lot, and he was not terribly happy about it, but Muttboy is, above all, a good boy, and he behaved himself very well.  The only bad thing he did was balk at standing on the slippery metal lift table, and I really can’t blame him for that.  Once we got him on the table, he was great.  He endured the gamut of annoying picks–everything from having his toenails clipped to having blood drawn to having a fine needle aspiration of the cyst.

In a week or so we will know for sure what the cyst is.  When the doctor was preparing to examine him, I told her my concern about it being an MCT (even though it does not really look like one), and she was surprised that my concerns matched hers.  I wonder if doctors really hate Google and all of the health sites that people read before going to their IRL doctors.  At any rate, even if it is an MCT, the doctor told me not to worry as it is treatable, and, since Muttboy has no MCT symptoms at all, he will probably be fine.  Whatever the lab work says, Muttboy will have some surgery in a couple of weeks.  I am definitely more worried about it than he is.

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Third Draft Done

I finished my third draft tonight.  The last chapter seemed to work very well, much better than the original ending.  In the second draft, I added an epilogue, and, in rereading it, I liked it, too.  It makes the story end on a sort of wistful, but positive, note.  As I worked on the third draft, I added over 500 words, but also cut more than 600 words.  The cutting was an interesting experience, since I could now see I was too worried about dragging the reader through the plot intricacies, and, in so doing, I had a few scenes with extraneous exposition.  One more proofread, and it will be ready to make its way out into the world.

Next week, I start the query process.  Since I know that a lot of writers are interested in this, I’ll keep posting on my progress.

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Here I am Simpsonized.  The movie, BTW, is hilarious.  Go see it.


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I started the third draft yesterday and finished Part I–about 95 pages or 35K words.  Today I had another marathon at the computer and finished Part II and the first couple chapters of Part III–up to 234 of 317 pages.  For some reason, when it comes to this project, I can really push hard and concentrate fiercely my writing.  Unfortunately, my academic writing is never this easy.  By the end of the week, I will have all of the large structural things completed, and will need to read through one more time for any stray typos and unresolved flow issues.  I am happy with the way the novel reads (it sounds like a “real” book, whatever that means), but I do have to say that I am getting a bit tired of reading it now that I have read it seven or eight times.

That same sort of end-of-things fatigue is beginning to set in with my cycling as well.  My legs do not feel as fresh as I would like them to feel, and I am starting to feel the mental edge showing some wear and tear.  Tonight, at the Tuesday Night World Championships, I wasn’t even sure that I would be able to start the race, much less finish it, because of some fairly bad stomach cramps.  Once we got rolling, though, I felt better.  Not sharp, not fresh, not ready to race, but better.  It was points race night, and I decided to race much more conservatively than I usually do.  This meant no silly attacks and not heroic solo flyers doomed to failure.  For the first sprint, five laps into the race, I sat and watched, since my positioning was not perfect.  I challenged the second sprint at lap 15 and scored some points there.  The sprints at laps 10 and five were not working for me, either.

Then, on the back stretch about a lap and a half before the finish, I was carefully studying the front of the pack.  I could see Pawling setting up and a couple of other teams dodging for position.  Which wheel should I follow?  What’s my best position?  As I was debating this, my teammate Mark rolled by on my left, motioning me to take his wheel.  I ducked into his draft and we started to advance in the pack.  One lap later, on the back stretch about 0ne kilometer from the finish, the pace exploded.  The line stretched out and I had a hard time holding my leadout guy’s wheel.  In a situation like this, a sprinter has to make several short sprints to maintain position at the back of a leadout train, and that’s exactly where I was–tenth man in a train roaring along at 33 mph.

At five hundred meters, the line started to fracture as some of the racers pushing the pace decided they didn’t want to be in the front.  At three hundred meters, the line broke into two parallel lines.  Mark, my leadout, took the right line, the one led by Pawling.  He absolutely buried himself to keep his position, and, at two hundred meters to go, I could see that no one was coming around us, so I launched as hard as I could go.  The Pawling sprinter is some 20-year-old hammerhead, and I couldn’t catch him, but I could blast past everyone else remaining.  I watched out of the corner of my eyes to make sure no one was going to pass me, and I gave everything I had to spin out my 50×11 gear as I held on for second place in the sprint.  I scored enough points to take second overall, too.  This helps solidify my standing in the series, where I am now in eighth place.
I really hate points races because they are so brutally hard, but I seem to do better at them than other races, for some reason.  I am racing so much smarter now, and that is making a huge difference.  Instead of timidly letting others dictate where I bounce in the pack, I find my own gaps and position myself much more aggressively.  It can be very exhilarating to see a small gap between riders and jump on the pedals to squirt through and pass someone.  So, despite the stale feeling in my legs, I found some freshness in the race.

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Title Terror

I am getting ready for the final drafting of my novel.  I finished the second draft and now need to finish what I’m calling the Three Cs: Clarification, Characterization, and Cleanup.  The clarification part requires me to fill in a few gaps that I left when I was working on the second draft; I knew that there needed to be more done in a couple of scenes, but I was impatient to keep going.  In these spots I just typed MORE HERE.  The characterization may or may not be necessary.  I think there are a few places where I focus too much on what is happening and not enough on what the characters are feelings, so in this third draft I can fix that.  Cleanup is grammar and style detail work.  My grammar should be okay, but one extremely astute reader in my writing group has noticed a few annoying little literary hiccups.  I apparently overuse the word “that,” for one thing.  It is embarrassing to realize such a thing, but he is definitely right–I use “that” gratuitously.

The big problem, though, is that I can’t figure out a title.  I was alternately calling it Gothic Lit and Gothic 101 in the first draft, and the second draft starts off with The Haunted Muse.  I hate the second draft title.  It is far, far too pretentious for the novel, and it happens to be the title of an academic book one of the characters has written.  So, I’m stuck.  I’m thinking something with “library” in the title.  Or “stacks.”  The Shadows in the Stacks.  Lucifer’s Library.  The Dewey Decimal Demon.  I adore alliteration, apparently.

This is driving me crazy, and I know that I will be completely insane until I figure out something that will work perfectly.  I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

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