clarentine: (cavalier)
A friend once observed, while critiquing one of my novels, that I appeared to be using one of the pair of main characters as a whipping boy. Bad stuff always fell worse on the one character, not the other, though the other is the one who instigated the situation. The other, in fact, often was being forced to watch as a punishment; the bad guys explicitly damaged the one to hurt the other. Which called into question why the whipping boy was there at all - what was their purpose, aside from soaking up punishment I subconsciously did not want to inflict on my chosen character? A very good question.

(An excellent critique overall, and a good friend for being willing to pull no punches. I needed to hear that.)

In revising the current novel, Switchback, it occurs to me that I'm still exploring the dynamic between two main characters, one of which inevitably becomes my favorite by the end of the first draft. I'll probably always be re-learning the lesson of that earlier critique, I'm afraid - I've done it again here, trapping the secondary protagonist and leaving the primary character to dig him out - but I am at least aware of what I've set up (and why robbing that character of agency is not a good thing for either character or story).

So here I am, on rewrite, considering that secondary protag. I can't do the obvious thing and combine the two characters, not in this story; it needs to remain a story about two brothers. What I can do, though, is build in goals for that secondary character. What is being trapped doing to him and his goals?

What I can't do is consider the scene solely from the standpoint of how it affects my primary character.

I'm going to go make some pound cake and think on that.
clarentine: (cavalier)
Don't forget your safety goggles. >:-)

Okay. I've now got a first draft of both Switchback and Lynch, so it's time to work on the rewrites for both...before the third in the series gets up enough steam to force me to pay attention to it.

First step (for me) in the rewrite process: prepare a synopsis. Nothing lets me locate plot holes better than a tightly-written short synopsis; synopses are geared to focus strictly on the plot and to step outside the sorts of point-of-view-related blinders that can keep me from seeing where I've left something out.

And, in order to prepare a synopsis, I need to know where the various important parts of the story are. I use Alexandra Sokoloff's story elements list as a jumping-off point. Last night, that meant I was sorting out Act 1 and 2 turning points, story midpoint, themes, and a bunch of other stuff. I know what the story is, sure, but for purposes of condensing all those pages of text down into a two-page synopsis it can be helpful to have to put things down on paper.

This will be the first time I've tried to write a synopsis for a series, on top of the synops for the first two books. I doubt much of what I write now about my expectations for the series's third book is going to survive the actual first draft, but I do have some idea where the first two books' events are pointing, so it'll be good to have that down as well.

Then, with refined synopses in hand, I should theoretically know where the first drafts are weak and where they need smoothing out. I know better than to set firm dates as goals, but I think I'm going to aim for a week or two to wrap up the synopses--and do my best not to let this become an exercise in avoidance, despite how much I both dread and dislike rewriting. It has to happen if I want to share the stories.

So: onward.
clarentine: (cavalier)
Accomplishments for 2013:

-- A harvest which, despite the wettest year on record, is still filling boxes. Who knew winter squash liked so much wet? Who knew about peppers' love of moisture?

-- Marmalade, which was actually not the most difficult preserve I've put up thus far in my rather short career.

-- Three-quarters of a new novel. It's still fighting me every inch of the way, but we're getting there. Which is convenient, because I really want to get back to the first in the series and do some revision. You know, so it's presentable for company?

-- Conquering my fear of markers in color-rendering a drawing. In fact, if it wasn't for the contest I'm entering this drawing in, I might never have even tried. (I made three copies of this drawing so, if I screwed up two of them learning to color-render, I'd still be able to enter the contest with the black and white third. Thus far, I'm actually very pleased with the first attempt.)

Challenges yet to be conquered:

-- Learning to balance my time better. Just because I can do three things at once, two of them in my head, doesn't mean I'm more efficient that way or that the things I'm simultaneously working on are better for the split attention. I need to focus on just one thing at a time. Which means....

-- Not feeling guilty when I can't actually think about the current novel. The constant low-level current of thought about whatever scene I'm working on, circling endlessly without progress, robs me of the ability to focus deeply on my active project, which is usually active for a reason. So, yes, I need to just let it go every once in a while and not fret over the absence of those characters in my mental space.

-- Finishing what I start. Not ever going to conquer this one, but it's worth looking at every once in a while. Plus, notice how it feeds directly into the one above? Just one damned thing after another. ☺


Jun. 8th, 2012 06:07 am
clarentine: (Default)
A meme is making its way through the blogosphere, and for once I feel like playing.

The rules:

1. Go to page 77 (or 7th) of your current ms
2. Go to line 7
3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating.

(My current ms is all of three paragraphs long, so I'm falling back on the one preceding it, which I wrapped up a month or so ago - a book in search of a title, currently called Switchback.)

uprooting humans.
Most humans, anyway. Jody stroked the rock's flank, encouraging it to shift ever so slightly away from the pocket the tree's root had dug along its side. Lesser bits of earth, obedient to his touch, compressed themselves together. When he felt the root's anchoring had loosened enough, he wrapped his hand around the trunk again and pulled--
--and the tree popped out of the earth as if just planted, the lack of resistance dropping him onto his back with the tree still clenched in his hand.
clarentine: (Default)
You know that Chinese curse about living in interesting times? Well, I just want to know who cursed me. Really, I could take being bored for a week or two. It wouldn't hurt my feelings at all.

(Don't worry; there is no imminent major crisis, just an avalanche of smaller ones. I'm buried.)


I hope everyone has been paying mindful attention to the lengthening daylight. We are less than a month past Midwinter, the shortest day of the year, and already the increase in day length is noticeable. It's not quite pitch black when I arrive home after work. I'll take some small reassurance from that, especially when it's as cold as it has been lately.

The chickens are responding to the increase in different ways. I'm getting a steady five eggs a day, six some days. And one of the hens has decided to go broody. Silly bird. No rooster means no chicks. I've been pushing her off the nest, making her go feed and water herself. I suppose that, if I ever did want to hatch out chicks, I now know which hen would volunteer.


Thanks to the nose-to-the-grindstone habit required to meet [ profile] novel_in_90's daily 750-word quota, I've made really significant progress in the novel going under the working title of Switchback. Better, I'm hitting all the marks the three-act structure would tell you need to be in place: first turning point came at 125 pages, and the midpoint finally wrapped up at page 278. (That was one massive scene, and boy, was it the setpiece the books all talk about.) My drafty outline is standing firm--and no one is more surprised about that than me. I am so very much not an outlining kind of writer.

I guess we'll wait and see where the second turning point comes, but I'm cautiously optimistic.
clarentine: (Default)
My, how time does fly when you’re...well, it’s the run-up to Christmas, so it’s hard to have fun, but there’s certainly enough to get done.

My mother and I have made a pact: only homemade gifts this year. My dad makes awesome fudge. I’ve got the jams I made this fall to distribute. There will be cookies, of course. Probably I should get baking them this weekend....

I mailed one of my gifts already, a packet of seeds of the Cosmos sulphureus I grew in the garden this year to someone who will make good use of them. I notice that the Cosmos seeds on offer in the various catalogs I’ve seen all have the orange and red variants of the plant I’ve grown for years. I’m smugly congratulating myself on having the yellow variant in my plants, as well. This is one I intend to sow in the long meadow for color next year – let’s hope it takes!


One of the things consuming my “free” time is the continuing round of [ profile] novel_in_90. We’re not quite at the halfway point, but I’ve managed to accumulate something over 33K words (by Word’s count, not SMF; I’m at 147 pages SMF, which works out to nearly 37K words). It’s gonna be a drafty draft, with lots of episodes of characters talking to the author, but you can’t edit it if it’s not on the page, right?

So far I’ve managed to be really mean to my characters (where being mean = conflict, which is a good thing). I have a feeling the story is about to become really mean to me, however; there’s an element of magical realism I intend to interject, but I’m not sure why my subconscious, when I was coming up with the idea for the story, decided I had to have this particular element. I still don’t know why. And I’m about to put a character on screen with no idea why she’s there.

I’ve done this novel thing often enough to know not knowing is a really big invitation to lots of rewriting...and I hate rewriting. Under the rules for Nin90, I could just plow ahead and write the parts I do know and worry about this character’s Why later. I am, however and much to my occasional regret, a linear writer, and this will not work.

Maybe it’s a good thing it’s a discovery draft, as well. I’ve got a lot to discover.


For those following along on farm news, the egg production is up far enough that I’ve begun letting my former clientele know that I can now begin selling them eggs again. (One of the people who have gotten eggs have not yet used one of the blue ones because they’re so pretty. Awwww....) (Yes, blue. Ameraucana blue. Like these:

And I sold my first dozen that very same day. >:-)
clarentine: (Default)
The eggs have begun, six months to the day from hatching to laying. They're coming every other day. After two days of one egg each, we got two eggs yesterday--more than one hen is getting in on the action. Both of them are light-brown, which means it's either the Australorp or the Jersey Giants; eggs from the Ameraucanas ought to be greeny-blue. More interestingly, my mom tells me the earliest eggs ought to be smaller than the hen will eventually settle into. These are nicely medium. I look forward to large brown eggs.

I look forward even more to them learning to lay their eggs in the boxes provided, instead of burrowing them into the bedding straw. >:-)

Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon we ran a power cord out to the chicken house and hooked up a light on a timer. A friend had advised the hens might not have been laying due to the reduced daylight hours. Also, the house is not insulated and, while there's a big window on the south side to let in warmth in the winter, it wouldn't hurt to provide a bit of auxiliary heat in the coldest hours. It will make it easier this winter to feed the hens their daily cracked corn snack, too, if I can see inside the storage part of the henhouse. And, if the extra light works, I should get more eggs, just in time for baking season.


Most of the leaves are out of the trees now. The best color of the autumn is done and laying on the ground--those bits which I did not capture and dry and take to work to add to my collage there. The number of comments I get on that collage (leaves dangled by thread from their stems and attached by tape to the upper edge of a lateral drawer on my wall cabinet) continue to surprise me. Such a simple bit of art! It reminds me, though, that interaction is an essential part of enjoyment. The collage wouldn't be half as much fun if it didn't move as you breezed past.

Bright, crisp afternoons and night skies full of woodsmoke and constellations: I do so love the autumn.


Garden-wise, things are quiet. The garlic is up and doing well. The spinach and new beets and tatsoi handled the recent freezes well under their little frost blanket, and the radishes are just about ready. The collards are nearly big enough to start harvesting, too, which will please me and the chickens, for whom they're really intended.

We've gotten in one big truckload of screened topsoil and expect a couple of loads of manure (cow and horse) to begin the long process of building up the soil in the garden. We still need to get the area for the greenhouse leveled, and I have to spread all that topsoil and the eventual manure. It'll pay off in a big way in the next couple of years.


I'm sticking with the [ profile] novel_in_90 750-words-a-day plan and hitting the goal most days, except when things are just too crazy at work. I'm up to 7500 words--first draft quality, to be sure, but that's 7500 words I probably wouldn't have if I hadn't committed to the community, and you can't edit what isn't on the page. The rough plot outline format I'm using is working, too, keeping my focus on the direction I want the novel to take. We'll call this cautious optimism and try not to think about it too hard. >;-)
clarentine: (Default)
Seven things you need to know about where my brain has gone, and why it’s unlikely to be more than scatteredly online for the next couple of months:

Toward the end of last month, a coworker passed away. He was young, and it was one of those deaths that could have – oh, should have – been avoided, and he is very, very missed. He was so full of energy and talent. His grasp of technology helped us survive some challenges and avoid some others, and he was one of the best case management backups I have had.

Because of budgetary concerns, there was some sense that Upstairs might drag out the filling of this suddenly vacant position...which would have been an extraordinarily bad thing, given that my other case management backup is retiring at the end of December. I have been contemplating what few means I have of forcing the issue, if it came to that. We got word late last week that we have been given permission to interview to fill both positions. (Which is not the same as actually filling the positions, but it's a step in the right direction.)

That Budgetary Thing. Yeah. After pitching a fit at some members of a national-level survey team here to see where the office could be made to run better, and pitching a second, louder fit at a team from Upstairs detailed to resolve the issues pointed out in the first event, my division finally got some office, paper clips. Envelopes. Letterhead, for dog’s sake. (This division is charged with responding to state and federal court orders in habeas corpus and appellate cases, which means we don’t have the luxury of waiting to file something when the supplies come in. The court says we must file something, we must file it. Doesn’t matter if we have to “borrow” supplies from another floor to make that happen.)

The office has finally arranged for a “refreshing” (read as replacement) of our copiers. See above for background on why it’s so essential that our office environment function. You’ll love this one: on the day they took our big copier, the one we use to produce appellate briefs and print PDFs because our 20-year-old HP laser printers simply couldn’t keep up, the new copier crashed twice. The next day, it crashed every other time we tried to use it. I spent half my day unjamming the damned thing. One of the copier company shirts, in the office to supervise training, went so far as to suggest that the problem was that the floor was uneven. He was lucky I had not yet hit enraged and so did not laugh in his face. That afternoon, a tech showed up to install a plate across the faulty hole-punching unit which the company was well aware was faulty (here is where I hit enraged). It was the wrong size. This was Friday afternoon, by the way, which is always an especially busy time for us. He came back, finally, on Monday morning to install the correct plate. As of this writing, one week later, the correct replacement for the faulty part has still not been installed.

The office has also finally been forced to budget for a complete replacement of our office computers. Back in August, I got sucked into an advisory committee to help prioritize our limited budget for the replacement (I’m the lead of the Training subcommittee). The time suck continues. The rollout is scheduled to begin in early November and run through the middle of December, and my subcommittee is tasked with managing the campaign to build a sense of positive urgency in the staff. The novelty for me: we’re moving to Windows 7/Office 2007...which I have never seen, given that my home environment is (quite happily) Mac. My section has several essential pleading formats which must work the first day we have the new software. I have a coworker bringing in a personal laptop today for me to see where the bugs are going to bite.

On the home front, our oldest dog had been on borrowed time for a while due to age and a tumor rising between her shoulder blades. She stopped eating last week. We took her to the vet’s for a final time on Friday. She was seventeen, a very old dog, and will be missed.

My son’s beagle has been to and from the vet’s a couple of times in the past several weeks, too, having either sprained or pinched something in her neck. She’s a very little beagle, and she loves being up on furniture to be closer to the people she loves, which is bad for very little beagles. I, of course, am the designated medication-giver, so I’ve been monitoring her treatment. Unlike the old dog, who bit me when I tried to administer antibiotics to help with a suspected kidney problem, the beagle looooves cheese and doesn’t even care if it comes wrapped around pills. She appears to be on the mend.

The ledger is tilting very decidedly toward the negative side, energy-wise. I’m exhausted. I haven’t been sleeping all that well, both for listening for the old dog when she was still with us and out of a combination of yowly cats, bright moonlight, and earthquake aftershock reactions (we are up over 40).

...and Switchback, the new novel, is still poking at me. >:-) I’m up to ten pages, about 2500 words in SMF (Standard Manuscript Format). I am, scarily enough, making good use of a plotting outline.

So, if you haven’t heard much from me, any of the above is probably why. If sooner has become too much later, raise a flag. I’ll be along.
clarentine: (Default)
With Tocara off to my agent, I’m freed to begin working on the next book. I have in mind something involving coal mines and railroads, Serpents and dragons, and the folklore of the southern Appalachians. I have a very tentative outline to help frame the research and an even more uncertain setting: the mining community of Switchback, WV. So: working title, Switchback. I’m sure that will change once I figure out what the story’s really about.

The research itself is off to a good start. I have three books waiting for me via InterLibrary Loan, to be picked up on Friday, and two more on my table at home. All are pretty much cultural grounding; as I told the librarians helping me round the books up, I need to understand what’s already there before I change it. I need to do justice to the stories already on that ground and to the people whose stories they are.

Time to break in a new research notebook.


My radish and collard and kale seedlings are coming up very nicely, but something seems to think the beets taste good already. I’ll have to plant more seeds and this time put a barrier up over the seedbed.

The seed garlic arrived in the mail yesterday! I’d ordered from Filaree Farm ( years ago and been very satisfied with the quality of the product. The garden I’d been planting them in finally got too shady, however, and I’ve been resorting to store-bought garlic for the better part of a decade. Now I have space and sunshine, and next year I’ll have my own garlic crop again!

This weekend I have a lot more planting in mind. Beets, maybe carrots, the garlic. Prep for the new raspberry bushes my dad will be bringing our way in October. Spinach, as much as I can fit in the two rows which are not going to be reworked this fall. Up by the house, I have mint in pots which need to be sunk into the ground, pots and all, so I don’t have to worry about them this winter (or water them next year).


I got the most lovely surprise harvest this week: braconid wasp cocoons on three of the massive tomato/tobacco hornworms I’ve been noticing lately on my tomatoes! Take that, Monsanto; I don’t need your help eliminating pests in my garden. The cosmos planted in the garden and the wild Queen Anne’s Lace at the wood’s edges have done their work, drawing and feeding the adult wasps which parasitize the hornworms. Next year, there will be more hornworms...and even more wasps. Huzzah!

(This is a great site talking about the war between worm and wasp: Great photos.)


clarentine: (Default)

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