An Extended Response to a Recent Comment

There are stories everywhere.

“Why did this happen?”

“How did it go down?”

Answer the reporters’ traditional questions–who, what, when, where, why, and how–and you’re telling a story.

Interesting point, though: you don’t need to answer all of the questions to make it a story. Sometimes each answer is its own story. And each story leads to more questions and more stories.

As a writer, it’s my job to tell stories. And because I write fiction, I’m supposed to make up those stories.

Every story has a starting point. Even the fictional stories. Maybe it was the who: many writers start with the characters and watch them interact. Sometimes it’s the what or the how: where would a locked room mystery be without the what and the how?

Just to be totally clear, darn near everything I write here on the blog is a story. And, guess what? Most of them are at least somewhat fictional. If I start with a news story, and I don’t know the answer to one of those questions, most likely I’m going to make something up. Because you (usually) don’t tell a story by not answering questions.

Put it another way: “How can you tell when a writer is making something up?” “He’s writing*.”

* A more accurate answer would be “He’s alive” but that doesn’t call back to the old joke about lawyers as well.

Because I’m the only person telling stories on this site–ignoring the ones that you all tell when you comment (remember what I said about stories leading to more stories?)–they have a number of common elements; if you read for a while, you’ll see similar word choices, subjects, and tonalities cropping up again and again.

My tastes run toward snark and satire, so when I have to make something up for a story, chances are I’m going to come up with something intended to trigger a smirk or a snicker.

What constitutes humor, snark, satire, and parody is heavily influenced by culture. It’s easy to miss those elements if you’re coming from a different cultural matrix.

One important point: making up answers for “why” can be risky. Oddly enough, some people take offense when certain motives are attributed to them. That being the case, I try not to fictionalize human motivations when writing about stories I’ve picked up from the news.

The key word in the previous sentence is, of course “human”. Cats, by and large, are unwilling to go to the hassle of filing lawsuits and–Grumpy Cat notwithstanding–don’t have money to pay lawyers.

Chillin’

My apologies for the late and short post. Blame the virus for detaching us all from the concept of linear time. (Translation: I forgot what day it was and by the time I remembered, it was too late to put something together.)

I’ll shoot to have something more substantial next Friday, but for now, enjoy this infrared shot of Lefty and MM hanging out last night.

07-1

MM is definitely more nocturnal than the rest of the crew, including Lefty. She’ll come out of the cage and explore the room at night, but once the sun comes up, she returns to the comfort of her caves–the condo and the milk crate–to sleep until dinnertime.

It will be interesting to see if her schedule changes once we start allowing her to roam the rest of the house.

State of the Fourth Estate 08

Some traditions are easy to keep up. And this year has made one particular tradition easier than ever.

This is my eighth “State of the Fourth Estate” report*, and it is, per tradition, late. Only two weeks, which isn’t all that bad: in 2017, it was almost a month. That delay took real effort; this one was simple because there are so very few date references these days. Remembering whether it’s Monday or Thursday takes a conscious effort, and as for keeping track of the weeks and months, well, why bother? It’ll only depress you.

* The eighth report, but only my seventh year of writing. The first SotFE post came at the six-month mark.

That said, sheltering in place has been a great boon to my writing. I’ve made more progress on Draft Three of Demirep in the last three weeks than in the previous three months of squeezing it in around work. Prior to the lockdown, I was hoping to finish the draft and find beta readers around the end of the year. Now, assuming I can keep up my current pace for the rest of the Shelter in Place period, I could be starting the beta before baseball returns.

Which reminds me: it’s time for me to start thinking about the next project, since I’ll be working on that while the beta readers are doing their thing.

Anyway, I’m hoping that, once I go back to work, I’ll be able to keep some of the momentum on both projects. I’d love to have TBD go faster than Demirep has.

Meanwhile, Like Herding Cats continues to make the rounds of agents. Waiting for responses has always been one of the most frustrating parts of the writing business. It’s even worse now. “Agent X normally responds to all queries within six weeks. We’re at the two month mark. Is she running slow? Not reading queries because she, like so many others in every field, can’t concentrate? Maybe she did read it and I never got the response because her work-from-home setup has issues.”

Not surprisingly, writers are very good at creating speculative scenarios to account for normal variations in response times. These days, we could fill whole volumes with our panicked musings. Not that anyone would want to read them.

I wonder if I could get more–and more favorable–responses if I offered to send partial and full manuscripts printed on toilet paper. We’ve got a spare roll or two, and I could probably find a continuous feed printer fairly cheaply. Hmm. Probably not, considering current feelings about things people have touched.

As always, thanks for hanging around and reading what I write.

Onward into Year Eight!

Changing Times

I try to get the Tuesday and Thursday blog posts up around 9:30 or 10:00. You may have noticed that this one is late. You may also have noticed that it’s not the first one to be late over the past several months.

There are a number of reasons for the recurrent delays, but the big one is time.

Let me be clear here: I have plenty of time for writing. The catch is that it mostly comes in small chunks–half an hour here, an hour there–on an irregular basis.

I’m fortunate. I can write just about anywhere. I don’t need any particular conditions, as long as there’s room to set up my computer (or, as at present, when I’m doing a pen-and-paper rewrite, my clipboard). I don’t need specific kinds of music or lighting, and I don’t have any writing rituals that can’t be performed in public.

That flexibility is great. But. What I don’t have is much control. I like routines, especially when it comes to writing. They help me be productive as soon as I sit down to work. Without the organization, it can take me ten or fifteen minutes to get my brain into writing mode and producing words that I don’t immediately erase.

If I’ve got three or four hours, fifteen minutes isn’t a big deal. It is important if all I’ve got is half an hour. In a normal week, I may get two four hour blocks of time I can devote to writing.

An additional data point: a typical blog post takes me around three hours to write.

I think you can see where I’m going.

If I spend my large blocks of writing time on blog posts, I don’t get much novel writing done. And if I dedicate the time to novels, the blogs are late, uninteresting, or poorly written–or worse, some combination of all three.

So I’m taking control and changing things to allow me to establish some routines. Agency! (It’s good practice for letting my characters show some agency of their own, right? Right.)

A historical digression: when I started this blog, I wrote five posts a week. Amazing what you can do when you can set your own schedule and establish your own routines. Then, six months in, I cut back to two posts a week, not counting the Friday Critter Posts. That change was specifically to give me more time for the novels-then-in-progress.

So there’s precedent for what I’m announcing today.

Effective immediately, I’ll be posting twice a week. Friday Critter Posts will continue unchanged, but the non-critter posts will be limited to Wednesdays. (Well, this week you get your post on Tuesday–late–to smooth the transition.) Nor am I going to stress out about the timing. If it’s Wednesday morning, great. Wednesday evening, fine. Tuesday? Sure, why not? Thursday? Okay. It’s all mid-week and everything is awesome.

And with this change in place, I can finally finish rewriting Chapter 15 of Demirep and move on to Chapter 16, where Things Happen. (Yes, Smartipants, Things Happen in Chapter 15 too, but Fifteen is low-key, catch-your-breath time, before my protagonist takes charge of her destiny in Sixteen.)

Anyway.

See you all Friday.

State of the Fourth Estate 07

And here we are again. Tradition must be honored, and since the tradition is that the “State of the Fourth Estate” post shall be late…This is, by the by, a tradition I find it annoyingly easy to follow–which is why one should always consider the ramifications before establishing a tradition.

(All mutterings about not quitting day jobs will be cheerfully ignored. But remember kids: don’t try this at home.)

Anyway.

My thousandth blog post has come and gone. Contrary to what I predicted last March, it wasn’t greeted with celebration, modest or otherwise. The truth is, I didn’t even notice. But let’s be honest: my ramblings about Microsoft’s semi-nefarious designs on your hard drive space probably aren’t on anyone’s list of their favorite blog posts. I enjoyed writing it, which is the main point–this blog is where I try out ideas and techniques as well as give myself a break from the novels that get most of my writing time–and I think it turned out well. But I’d be the first to admit it’s not champagne-worthy.

This post is Number 1031. Assuming I average around 500 words per post, that means the blog has about six novels’ worth of prose. Or, allowing for multiple drafts, one readable novel. I think I’ll halt that line of speculation before it goes downhill.

Speaking of novels, in a break with tradition, I don’t have one in beta at the moment. Like Herding Cats is finished and is making the rounds of agents*. The next book, Demirep, is about halfway through the second draft.

* Though, as readers of my newsletter can tell you–but why should they, when you can subscribe to it yourself–my querying is currently on hold while I rework the query letter.

Of course, the biggest news of the year was about my acquisition of a new day job. To answer the obvious question first, yes, it does mean that work on Demirep is going more slowly than before I started dividing my attention.

On the other hand, the rewriting is going faster than it would if we had run out of money for Kitty Krunchiez and I was trying to write while fending off small, fuzzy carnivores with designs on my fingers.

Life’s a series of trade-offs that way.

And–insert usual disclaimer about unexpected events here–Demirep should still be ready for beta readers in a few months. Editors and agents aren’t the only ones responsible for the notoriously slow nature of the publishing industry. Fair’s fair.

As usual, once Demirep goes out to beta readers, I’ll be starting a new project. I don’t know what it’ll be. As usual, my ideas folder has several promising entries. Whichever one does the best job of grabbing my attention when the time comes will get the nod.

That’s one of the joys of not having signed a contract for a series. Mind you, I’d love to experience the joys of having a series contract, but one thing at a time.

And right now, that one thing is Writing Year Seven.

Onward!