Every now and then —

I drop in at Amanda Hocking’s blog. You know, for a Famous Person who gets coopted to be an Example To Us All on a fairly frequent basis, she has a very balanced perspective.

I rather like this, for example.

Not that she reaches important conclusions, but she makes good comments. Like here:

I don’t know what this means, exactly, or what the answer to the problem is. Why teenage boys aren’t reading is actually a multifacted problem, and this answer isn’t as simple as changing the cover of a book. But Jo Rowling had to go by J. K. Rowling because the publisher didn’t think boys would read a book written by a girl.

I do think that this may be more of an intrinsic difference between boys and girls and less of a problem to solve, you know? Here’s an intriguing comment from Hocking’s blog:

It sounds like the issue is reading. My brother is turning into a bigger Jane Austen fan than me, but will he read one of her books? Noooo. My husband is an online news junkie and loves sci-fi – so long as it’s on NetFlix. He doesn’t read books, let alone Twilight, but he enjoyed the movie and couldn’t give a rats ass whether the book was written by a female, male or extraterrestrial so long as it’s entertaining.

Women, in general, are better at visualization. Books play like movies in our heads as we read them. A lot of guys don’t read that way.

Isn’t that an interesting suggestion? If true, it would certainly seem to follow that boys would read less than girls — intrinsically.

But if I had a boy-type kid, I’d have a lot of gross-humor and horror type books and comics and things lying around the house, if that’s what he liked.

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Some days are like this —

What I did yesterday instead of working on the ongoing revision of BLACK DOG:

a) Took dogs for run.

b) Went to work. You’d think I’d forget how to get to the campus after three weeks off, but I made it. Parking lots crammed because students haven’t started ditching classes yet.

c) Got home and gave dogs snack.

d) Made this cool eggplant dish to use up these great Japanese eggplants. Very quick and easy and not bad when nibbled. Put eggplant dish aside after nibbling.

e) Made these phyllo cheese straws because I happened to have feta around and wanted to use up the phyllo. Turned out all right. Made yogurt-garlic dip to go with them.

f) Took dogs for run. Turned out to be hotter than I thought. We all came home and collapsed in the air conditioning.

g) Made some pretty good zucchini fritters to use up yet another zucchini.

h) Prepared to work on revision at last, but Dara came and sprawled on my lap and said it was her turn for serious petting. Had to admit she was totally right. Read a Ngaio Marsh mystery instead of turning on laptop because I can read and pet dog at same time.

i) End result, zero work on revision.

So, yes, Eric is totally right, in order to get stuff written you have to settle down and write it . . . but some days it just doesn’t happen.

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Revision update!

Not done!

But closing in on the end of BLACK DOG, my paranormal YA werewolf story. Somehow it feels like I’ve been here before. Which, of course, I totally have.

I will probably finish (again) about Wednesday — nine days longer than I thought it would take. Not dreadful, but I did hope to get it all the way done before classes started. Sigh.

So! Thinking about the revision process:

Type a) writing new material, like a whole new chapter, even — easy, fun, fast.

Type b) making major changes, like adding a new character or taking out an old character or combining two characters or adding a major plot twist or whatever — not as easy, but not too disagreeable; fast-ish.

Type c) going through the whole ms while making an infinite series of judgment calls about whether each character “works” in each scene and whether each character arc is clear and whether you’re enough “in the head” of each viewpoint character — hard, tedious, totally not fun at all, sloooooow.

Probably not a coincidence that the part I hate doing takes much longer to get through!

I know from experience that I will wind up not sure whether the characters work well enough — should I fiddle some MORE with the character? I have a hard time saying Enough! and throwing my ms. to the sharks. However, as I say, I expect to declare myself finished Enough! with this one about Wednesday.

I am always very pleased, btw, when a REAL reader contacts me and says how great the characters are and how they fell in love with _______. Love that! Major validation! Not that I turn down compliments on other aspects of a book, mind you.

On the subject of revisions, check this out: THE INTERN.

A little while ago, INTERN heard from a writer-friend who had just gotten his first-ever revision letter from his agent.

“She started out by saying what an amazing concept I have and how much she adores the novel. Then she basically said the entire plot doesn’t make sense, the ending is one giant cliché, and she almost stopped reading after two pages because the first chapter’s so bad.”

How, wondered INTERN’s writer-friend, did his agent decide to sign him at all, when the manuscript was rife with so many embarrassing problems?

INTERN encouraged him to ask his agent this very question. A few days later, INTERN heard from him again: “She just fell in love with the concept.”

INTERN has heard similar stories from other first-time novelists, often substituting “voice” or “writing style” for “concept.” Conventional wisdom states that your manuscript should be as perfect as possible before going on the hunt for an agent. In truth, though, plenty of less-than-perfect manuscripts find representation—as long as they’re less-than-perfect in the right way.

I’m glad to say that my editorial comments have never been quite that comprehensive! But that’s a useful way of thinking about manuscripts, isn’t it? We all need help prying our fingers off a ms. and letting it go. Sheer boredom with it helps get the job done for me, but it helps to think it’s okay to be less than perfect! Throw that ms. to the sharks and find out if it’s less than perfect in the right way!

So, anyway — looking forward to a short break before starting Fall’s Revision #2!

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For later perusal . . .

Like, when I have time, which I do not right now, because I am in the awesome state of actually wanting to revise my WIP!

Thinking about the current scene I’m working on … even while pulling weeds! (It rained, which in August is God’s way of telling you you MUST weed NOW, so there’s no choice about that. I can tear myself away from the laptop for an hour a day, right?)

Not actually thinking about the current scene while working with Adora, who’s showing in competitive obedience in a week and MUST PRACTICE. No, for fifteen minutes I actually focus on my beautiful ruby girl! But I AM thinking about that scene while driving to the college to practice and then while driving home.

And email and the internet? Gotta check what’s going on, but not much enthusiasm for extended browsing! So, outta here!

But this still looks like a good and useful link (hattip, Nathan Bransford) and I will read ALL the stuff people are saying about marketing their books the VERY NEXT TIME I COME UP FOR AIR. Should be next week sometime. See you!

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As always . . .

As has been known to happen from time to time, Nathan gives good advice.

I absolutely do not write every single day. Although, I have to say, unlike Nathan, I certainly do write a lot of days in a row — when I’m writing. When I’m working, I’m working, and during those periods, I write every day or at least almost every day, for hours a day — sometimes lots of hours a day.

But when I reach a stopping point with a manuscript, I stop writing, full stop, and read a lot of books. And I enjoy it. I may well dread picking up that manuscript again to do the next necessary part (revision, second revision, take care of editorial comments, whatever), but I set a date my break will be over and on that date I get back to work.

And believe me, the dogs provide me with lots and lots of distractions. But it’s amazing how often I shut down the laptop, tuck a bag o’ treats in my pocket, head out to walk dogs — and immediately work out a writing problem that’s had me stymied. Those are the useful distractions!

I do turn the ringer off on the phone when I’m working. Some kinds of distractions are not very useful! I’ll turn it back on in a few weeks. In the meantime, sorry, don’t bother calling, I’m not picking up.

Today’s work so far — yep, I’m definitely putting a new chapter in the front of Black Dog. Definitely going to finish that tonight. Then onward to the revisions! I’m actually enjoying this so far. Whenever I shut the laptop, I really want to open it back up. Always good when the work flows!

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Additional tips from the show —

1. Even a king-sized bed doesn’t mean you have more room yourself. All your dogs want to sleep right next to you, thus squeezing you onto one edge until you’re in danger of falling off the bed in the middle of the night.

2. The food network can be addictive! Good thing I don’t have cable, or I’d spend all my time watching Iron Chef episodes. I wonder if those are available on DVD? But if I bought them, I’d spend all my time watching them . . .

Plus, there was this interesting recipe for Shaker Lemon Pie. Used whole Meyer lemons, sliced ultra-thin, and the cook added vodka to the pie crust. Isn’t that a neat idea? The vodka supposedly cooks off as the pie bakes, so you wind up with an extremely flaky crust. I need to remember to try this.

3. You can get used to walking your dogs on a 45 degree slope amazingly fast, if that’s the only place available to walk them.

4. It is totally crucial to pack along some breakfast bars and good pretzels or whatever you like as snack food, even if the hotel has good food (which it did). This will save you if you need to start showing in performance super early in the morning and then need to touch up ears and feet before you show in the breed ring. No time for breakfast or lunch!

5. Although for the first time EVER I took a look at Adora during the lunch break on Friday and said, “You know what? You’re perfect right now.” And so I didn’t even do her ears or put the drying coat on her to flatten her coat. Nothing. And she went on to win best ruby girl in show, so I was right!

6. It will ALWAYS take a minimum of three hours for the banquet and auction on Saturday night. Probably more. Give your dogs good chew toys and don’t even try to keep them calm when you (finally!) get back to your room way past their normal bedtime. They are going to bark hysterically. Just let it go.

7. It’s probably okay if you forget to give your nervous dog dramamine for the trip home. After three days of showing, she’ll just fall into a coma the moment you get onto the highway and barely twitch till you pull into your driveway.

8. It is way, way more pleasant to have a hour and a half drive home than a six hour drive. Too bad the July show isn’t in St Louis every year!

Other news:

Yes, I’m starting the revision of Black Dog. I’m switching the first couple of scenes into Natividad’s point of view and adding a bit to the first chapter . . . I have that partly done now . . . probably I’ll break the chapter up and start Alejandro’s point of view in Chapter 2. I should have that done by the end of tomorrow, I hope.

As I go, I’ll be revising the ages of some of the characters (downward, because the idea is to drop this story more firmly onto the YA side of the line) and making various revisions to the plot. Don’t want to actually provide spoilers as such, so can’t say too much about that. Not that anything would make sense if you haven’t read the story, I guess, but still.

I’m feeling pretty good about this revision right now. Hope I still feel that way in a few weeks!

Meanwhile, the heat’s supposed to break in the next few days! Can’t wait for that!

Now, gotta go make the eggplant fries from my latest issue of Saveur — they sound great!

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A very nice weekend . . .

It took me two trips to carry in all the ribbons — literally. Slithery little things, hard to hang onto. My beautiful smart girls won thirty ribbons all put together!

I figured it out this morning: I had fifteen rally / obedience entries total and got twelve green qualifying ribbons, eleven colored (placement) ribbons to go with them, two NQs (nonqualifying scores) and once I pulled a girl — didn’t show her even though she was entered.

So! Check it out!

Eve (14 months)

This is the youngster, Eve. She was entered in Novice Rally all three days — she was way too excited the first day (but qualified), and did a great job the other two days because I took the time to calm her down before we went in the ring. That big ribbon is her high-in-rally-trial ribbon, which she got with a very nice score, I think 97 but I forgot to write it down. She was also in the Graduate Puppy class in the breed ring, but is really not pretty and feminine enough to win in the CKCSC, so she didn’t place. It was a big class and had some nice puppies in it, so no surprise there. She showed very well and ought to do okay in the AKC.

Kenya, 19 months

Kenya is very hard to show, such a distractable little creature! She did fine in Novice Rally the first day and finished her C-RN title, but honestly the only reason she got that high-in-trial ribbon is because I lost too many handler-error points with the more experienced girls. She didn’t do very well in the Advanced ring on Saturday and I pulled her on Sunday rather than let her practice badly. But she showed beautifully in the conformation ring, not a given for Kenya, but she was lovely and happy! Unfortunately it was a very large class and she didn’t place, although I really hoped she would and thought she might. She is very pretty, she honestly is, and I did get lots of nice comments about her from people who watched her.

Pippa, 5 years

Now, Pippa is a wonderful show dog! She doesn’t show in the breed ring, although she’s very beautiful, because she’s spayed. She finished off her CKCSC rally novice title, started her CKCSC rally advanced title, got a very well-deserved high-in-rally-trial ribbon on Sunday with a beautiful performance — luckily that was the day her breeder was watching — and finished her CKCSC CD title.

And last but not least!

Adora, 4 years

See those blue ribbons? My lovely Adora is now OFFICIALLY beautiful! She won the Special Limit Ruby class all three days AND won Best Ruby Bitch on Friday — beating out a really very nice ruby girl who got a major on Sunday, so that was really nice!

She also did great in Rally and got her first CD leg — way to go, Adora! Formal obedience is hard and this was her first time in the ring and she was wonderful! Those red second-place ribbons don’t reflect her performance, but mine: she’d have got high-in-trial at least once if I hadn’t lost her a lot of points with handler errors.

But the breed wins were a special pleasure and I’m very happy Adora got this well-deserved recognition!

WHEW! I’m taking today to decompress . . . tomorrow is soon enough to start working on the manuscript revision that’s next on my writerly schedule.

I didn’t get all the prizes in the girl’s pictures — so one more picture:

See, the theme was “My Pride And Joy”, which is the title of this painting. My girls won lots of marble tiles with this image, plus the marble canister and the clock, so I bid on the print during the silent auction and got that, too. They’ll all look very nice in my plant room. Plus! About a million stuffed toys and show leads and whatnot. Good job, puppies!

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Busy weekend ahead!

The St Louis Cavalier Specialty! Which I bet is going to fall across the very hottest days of the year, which is kind of a tradition for the July specialty. At least we don’t have to worry about ice storms, which, as I recall, were a major concern the last time the St. Louis show fell in December. Plus it’s only an hour and half drive, not nearly as far as when the July show is set in Indy or Chicago.

I’m showing four dogs: Pippa, Adora, Kenya, and Eve. Everybody but Pippa is showing in the breed ring, all four in Rally, and Pippa and Adora in formal obedience. Plus there’s a training seminar on Friday, plus the heart and eye clinics on Saturday! Plus, friends to go out to dinner with, very important. Oh, yes, busy busy busy.

My goal is to come home with ALL of the ribbons in Rally on at least one day. Plus to have my girls qualify in formal obedience — it’ll be Adora’s first time in the formal obedience ring.

Plus I would really like to have at least one of my girls win a class in the breed ring on at least one day. The competitor has way more control over what happens in the performance rings; nothing can guarantee what the judge will do in the conformation ring.

Actually not expecting much from my graduate puppy, Eve — she has freckles on her nose, and she’s on the big side for the breed. But Kenya, if she shows well — and she is FAR from reliable, she is SUCH a little flibbertigibbet — but, as I say, IF she shows well, she is lovely and typey and has beautiful movement. And Adora is quite nice, it all depends on who else is in the ring with her and what the judges like. There are some very nice rubies showing right now and Adora went out of coat just in time for this show, alas.

So — wish me luck!

I will be taking lots of books to read, in case I find time for ’em, and NOT my laptop. Last weekend of my personal break, so I plan to enjoy it! Back to work on Monday. Well . . . Tuesday at the VERY LATEST.

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Recent Reading: Books for Boys

Of course you hear all the time that boys don’t read. Too many appealing alternatives, too few men in their homes modeling reading, too many Plucky Girl Protagonists with Boy Sidekicks . . . too many sweet girl stories like Charlotte’s Web and too few gross boy books like Vlad the Impaler, parents and teachers just don’t think that the things boys do read (comics, game manuals, whatever) count as “real” reading . . . lots of suggestions!

There’s probably truth in every single one of those suggestions. Definitely there are HORDES of Ubercompetent Girl Protagonists in the big YA hits (The Hunger Games, Divergent, Eon, Graceling, the list just goes on and on and on) but darned few boys are primary protagonists (other than Harry Potter). Also tons of teachers seem to just love books that wallow in interpersonal relationship stuff and really loathe pure adventure stories, and it certainly makes sense that this would be a turn off for lots of boys.

Well, if you happen to be keeping an eye out for great YA books for boys*, then here’s a duology that for some reason hasn’t seemed to make it onto various lists of books for boys: Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn and Skybreaker.

Zeppelins! Pirates! Pretty heiresses with annoying chaperones, beautiful gypsy girls without the chaperones, monsters, ornithopters, treasure hunts, haunted airships, more pirates, and always lots of zeppelins!

These were great — lots of fun and well-written. I appreciated that the dangerous winged catlike animals were, you know, actually dangerous predators and not special telepathic friends.

Great books, really! Even for girls, but especially for boys.

* Also, by the way, my very own most recent book, THE FLOATING ISLANDS, also has a boy protagonist. Just saying.

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Guilt and relaxation

Way back when I was in grad school, somebody sent around a list of jokes of the “You know you’re a redneck” type — The “You know you’re a grad student when” list.

Naturally this is now available on the internet, so HERE if you are interested.

The funniest one is You wonder if APA style allows you to cite talking to yourself as ‘personal communication’. Ha ha ha ha ha! No, really, that’s funny! And at the time I really did explain to children who asked that I was in the 22nd grade.

But the one that has stuck in my head is this one:

You have accepted guilt as an inherent feature of relaxation.

Still true! It’s just a little ridiculous to feel guilty for taking a week off before starting a major revision — I mean, it’s not like I’m on a deadline! Who cares whether this revision is finished by the end of August or the end of September?

I value my work ethic, thank you. But every now and then I have to persuade myself that it really is perfectly okay to settle down for a week and read a lot of books! It even counts as professional development! Everybody knows that writers need to read a lot! So there, work ethic!

So over the past weekend, I read EON and EONA by Alison Goodman.

Sorry to say that I didn’t love these books as much as lots of other people. Yes, the world building was great; yes, the exploration of gender issues was interesting. But.

For me, the main problem was that I really thought Eona was dumb as a box of rocks. Actually, it seemed to me that nearly all the important characters were unforgivably stupid. Gosh, why do you suppose the lime juice might be bitter? Hello?

It was just utterly, totally, completely obvious what Lord Ido was up to. It was also obvious what Eon needed to do to stop him. And yet every single character flailed around in the dark as though these things were complete mysteries.

This was incredibly annoying.

I started to get more into it when Lord Ido’s character became more complicated (right at the end of EON) and I must say, the last two hundred pages of EONA were fabulous.

Question: Have reviewers tended to give this duology higher praise than it really deserves because the gender stuff is edgy in a way that appeals to them?

Answer: I dunno. Maybe unbelievably, even suicidally oblivious characters don’t bother a majority of YA reviewers, for some reason.

Note: For a great Chinese setting, I’d suggest UNDER HEAVEN by Kay and BRIDGE OF BIRDS by Hughart.

UNDER HEAVEN unrolls slowly and beautifully and offers exquisite prose and wonderful characters.

BRIDGE OF BIRDS is fast paced and utterly charming and has some of the greatest characters ever — especially Master Li, who has, he admits, a slight flaw in his character.

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