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Does this count as a milestone?

Back on June 2nd? I made it to 64,000 words on my current WIP. And last night? That’s right, back to 64,000 words.

There’s a broader lesson in there someplace, something about making progress slowly or two steps back for one step forward or something. Whatever! The longest the WIP has ever been is 71,000 words and I expect I will get comfortably past that sometime next week, particularly as various chunks I cut will be added back into the ms as I get to the new, later, scenes they now belong to.

The plan is still to be finished with it by the end of August. Since I have two weeks off in August before the fall semester starts, I can do a push then and get it wrapped up. And there should be a lot less revising to do on the first go-through, since a lot of the big stuff got done in this current stop-and-revise session. I am dying to get to a different WIP, but also dying to make inroads on my TBR pile . . . choices, choices! My life is so tough!

Meanwhile! I will do a quick post on the Hugo nominees that I’m voting for in a few days, after I’ve read the other three novellas and LEVIATHAN’S WAKE. Which arrived yesterday, and it is a monster, 600 pages, which is GREAT, don’t get me wrong, I love long books, but it’s sure heftier than I expected. I like the opening couple of paragraphs, but I want to read all the novellas first before I really start it.

And speaking of the novellas? Just finished this one this morning.

“The Man Who Bridged The Mist” won the Nebula, and at the moment, though I’ve got another three to read, I’m dead positive I’m going to vote for it for the Hugo. Loved it! LOVED it! Apparently Kij Johnson has no trouble with people reading his novella online, which is GREAT. That link above is straight from his website. So click and enjoy!

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Recent reading

Okay! I read Walton’s AMONG OTHERS, and that’s the one that’s going on the top slot of my Hugo ballot, at least for now.

You know what’s interesting about this book? Nothing happens in it. The actual conflict with the scary-witch mother? Very (and I’m quite sure deliberately) anticlimactic.

In fact, it’s like the whole big plot occurred earlier, in the backstory, and the book itself is set after the real story took place. Which is fascinating. Linda, if you read this, what do you think?

I thought for some time after finishing it: why is this not YA? Because we have a fifteen-year-old protagonist, a boarding school, the need to sneak around outside of adult supervision, a problem to face (though like I said, that winds up being anticlimactic), the first boyfriend, the protagonist figuring out who she is as a person . . . all the elements of YA. Yet it’s not being marketed as YA and, in fact, doesn’t feel like YA. And why not? Because (I conclude) nothing really happens in the book. (And it’s paced slow.)

I’m not the least bit surprised it won the Nebula. Writers vote for that, and I bet virtually every single writer can identify with the not-fitting-in-at-school thing. I expect it will win the Hugo, because lots of fans vote for that, and ditto for fans.

If I had a fifteen-year-old daughter? Particularly one who liked SF and F and was really bright? I would so hand her this book. It’s not fun and quick like THE BLUE SWORD (say), but in its own way it’s just as good.

Oh — and the epistolary thing doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but I always like that form and I just never worry about whether a person could actually remember that much detail to put down in her diary or letters or whatever. But this one IS epistolary, so if that’s sometimes an issue for you, well, fair warning.

In complete contrast, the other book I read this weekend (and, yes, I was working on my WIP, too) was LOVER AVENGED by JR Ward. Yep, still working my way through the vampire romances! A tidbit of dialogue that is illustrative of what I like about these books:

“Okay, here’s the deal, George. You see these fuckers? They’re trouble, straight-up trouble. I know we’ve done this a couple of times, but let’s not get cocky.”

And what is the situation? That’s right, Wrath is talking to his new guide dog about going up the stairs! Yes, I laughed.

What I love about Ward’s vampire books: the snappy dialogue.

What I don’t love: you know, EVERY ASPECT of ordinary vampire society is EVIL. And I don’t mean morally a bit on the iffy side, I mean actually no kidding evil. The Bloodletter’s Summer Camp For Killers? Evil. (And also very questionable from a practical standpoint; I can’t believe anybody ever thought for one second this was a great way to train soldiers. I mean, seriously? Are you kidding me?)

The idea of seclusion for females? Evil. The thing with the Chosen being staked out for their lover? That’s right — totally evil. And the unspoken customs, like the way the aristocrats treat each other and the commoners? Also evil. The exploitation of the happy slave race of doggen? I mean, I’m speechless.

What I like: various protagonists waking up to the notion that it’s about bloody time for a major overhaul of all their dearest traditions. Thank you, yes, good thinking! Faster, please!

What I would really appreciate: the human women? Or the women who used to be human? They should really come down on vampire institutions like a ton of bricks. They weren’t raised like that; they should know better.

All that aside . . . Zsadist is my favorite Brother. That scene of his at the end of his book (LOVER AWAKENED) — if you’ve read it you know which scene I have in mind — it’s really, genuinely, moving.

And Rehvenge is my second favorite. I guess I’m a sucker for Bad Boys With A Heart Of Gold.

But it ticks me off that Xhex got kidnapped at the end. I guess EVERY FEMALE CHARACTER has got to be a victim and get saved by Her Man, no matter how tough she is? If she’s a stone-cold killer, we just give her an extra special bad guy to get kidnapped by? Honestly! I hope when I read the next book, she turns out to save herself.

UPDATE: Just read LOVER MINE, and yes indeed Xhex DOES save herself. So, cool! I am now happy.

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Hey, look what was waiting on my porch yesterday —

A whole boxful! Two boxes, in fact! Isn’t it lovely?

The official release date is July 10th! I am nervous and excited: how will the early reviews look? I see that 471 people on Goodreads have listed it as to-read. That sounds like a good start! I will be giving away 10 copies on Goodreads — I’m setting that up right now, since I finally have copies that I’m able to mail out.

UPDATE: The giveaway has gone live; here is the link.

Also, I’ve set up a blog tour, so lots of reviews should be posted, starting July 9th and going straight on into September. Did I mention I am nervous as well as excited?

I’ll be posting links to guest posts and interviews and stuff as they hit the blogophere — also to any review where there’s also a giveaway, which should be most of ’em.

July 10th . . . counting the days!

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Yes, I know, this has been done before . . .

I mean, this thing about Real Literature vs Genre.

But I like this post by Ursula Le Guin. Who also knows this is not a new thing:

“I keep telling myself that I’m done writing about Literature vs Genre, that that vampire is buried at the crossroads with a stake in its heart and garlic in its coffin. And then it pops up again, undead. Its latest revival is a cheery one in an entertaining article, “Easy Writers,” in the May 28 New Yorker by Arthur Krystal . . .”

And then in the course of taking apart Krystal’s article (which he sure deserves: “Good Bad Books”, honestly, I ask you), she makes the single best suggestion I’ve ever heard for how to deal with the customary elevation of “Literary novels” and the denigration of genre:

“To get out of this boring bind, I propose an hypothesis: Literature is the extant body of written art. All novels belong to it . . . Literature consists of many genres, including mystery, science fiction, fantasy, naturalism, realism, magical realism, graphic, erotic, experimental, psychological, social, political, historical, bildungsroman, romance, western, army life, young adult, thriller, etc., etc…. and the proliferating cross-species and subgenres such as erotic Regency, noir police procedural, or historical thriller with zombies.”

To which I respond: Well, obviously. But I’m not sure I felt it was all that obvious before Le Guin said it.

Incidentally, my favorite comment on this post?

Pat Mathews says:
June 18, 2012 at 9:08 am

“PLEASE don’t suggest that English teachers teach the novels people actually read! I can think of no better way of ruining the pleasure in the book for the students than to have to deal with those tiresome “Questions for discussion” and the intense analysis that deconstructs everything.”

Interestingly, though my response to that comment was AMEN, several later commenters think that deconstructing novels is a great pleasure. So there you go.

Personally, I NEVER liked a single novel that was assigned in school. (I’m including high school and college here, and reserving the right to have forgotten something I actually did like.)

Some I nearly liked (Faulkner’s THE BEAR) and some I detested with a burning passion (MADAME BOVARY), but I didn’t actually enjoy a single one. This left me with a conviction that Great Literature must be grim, depressing, and tragic.

This reflexive flinch at the mere concept of Great Literature lasted until a friend made me watch the movie “Sense and Sensibility”. Which I loved. Which led me to read all of Jane Austin. After which I asked, Why in Heaven’s name didn’t anybody assign THOSE in school? I think we need more English Lit teachers who are natural optimists and don’t automatically think a book has to be GRIM and carry a message about the fundamental hopelessness of the human condition in order to have, you know, worth and depth.

But if English Lit teachers were going to pick some fabulous genre examples to add to their curricula, what would be some good picks? I don’t want to suggest anything too super obvious, so nothing like The Lord of the Rings — let’s get beyond that and pick some cool stuff that nobody’s ever thought of teaching in the classroom!

My top five off the top of my head:

THE CITY AND THE CITY (Mieville) — my God, teachers should love this one if they want to have discussions about what everything means and the nature of truth. And I was just re-reading bits of it last night, so it was on my mind.

A FREE MAN OF COLOR (Hambly) — a mystery set in 1830s New Orleans, the lit teacher could tie it into the history class, for a teaching across the curriculum type of thing, and it’s truly a great story.

THE BOOK OF ATRYX WOLFE (McKillip) — because it’s just the most beautiful book ever.

A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT (Whitcomb) — because I think teenagers would love it, it’s got great female and male characters, and it’s raises some really neat questions about morality and society and all that stuff, and besides it’s just fabulous.

And, um . . . um . . . I said five, right? Okay, but I’m going to cheat and throw in a series:

The Queen’s Thief series (Turner) — because I think kids would love them and they’re great stories and the setting is sorta-kinda historical and I could go on but basically I just think they’re really amazing books. Especially the middle two but really all four.

What occurs to you that would be great in the classroom?

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And for Father’s Day —

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear I made a cake! Since my Dad has a sweet tooth, this was a no-brainer thing to do.

I was in a mood to experiment, so I made this possibly somewhat odd cake:

Chocolate Mayonnaise Layer Cake

I admit I also made this because I accidentally opened a jar of mayonnaise when I already had one open. They were both big jars and it takes me a loooong time to go through a jar of mayonnaise, so this cake was a way to speed up the process.

The cake wasn’t at all bad. Decent chocolately taste and a nice moist crumb. I present it here in case you also find yourself needing to find room for two open jars of mayonnaise in the fridge. Or, for that matter, out of butter, since that plus a couple eggs is what the mayonnaise is replacing.

2 oz semisweet chocolate
2/3 C cocoa
1 3/4 C boiling water
2 3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 C dark brown sugar (or actually I used light brown, not like it makes any difference)
1 C sugar
1 1/3 C mayonnaise (I would not expect results to be as good using low-fat or fat-free; I used Helman’s regular mayonnaise)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Frosting of your choice — since this was my Dad, I used a chocolate peanut butter frosting that I figured he would like, and since it was Father’s Day, I dusted stars over the frosted cake with gold dust. But use whatever you like.

So, the cake:

Combine the chocolate and cocoa and pour over the boiling water; whisk until smooth.

Combine dry ingredients.

Beat together the sugars and mayonnaise — beat for 3 minutes. Then beat in the eggs one at a time. Then add the dry ingredients 1/4 at a time, alternately with thirds of the chocolate mixture.

Line three eight-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Or I used 2 nine-inch cake pans plus one giant cupcake dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-32 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Let cakes cool ten minutes, turn out onto racks, and cool completely. Assemble, frost with whatever frosting you decided to use. In case you also like peanut butter, here is a good chocolate-peanut-butter frosting, good for a father with a sweet tooth:

8 oz semisweet chocolate
3/4 C peanut butter
1 C heavy cream
1 C powdered sugar

Heat the cream and pour over the chocolate and peanut butter; whisk until smooth. Whisk in the powdered sugar, more or less a cup or to taste. Frost cake; chill to set frosting; use your handy star decal to dust gold dust stars over cake, and serve to general acclaim.

Also! In case you’re keeping track of my progress in other realms, possibly more relevant to you as readers . . . I have now cut SIXTY SEVEN pages from my WIP, dropping its current length back to a mere 154 pages. Ouch!

But! A) I like the 154 pages I have now quite a lot better than I liked the 221 I had before , and B) Some of the cut pages are simply going to move to a new home in a later chapter, so that cut wasn’t as extreme as it seems.

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Recent Reading

Have you ever read anything by China Mieville?

He keeps winning awards of all kinds — I think at this point that feeds on itself, because he won the World Fantasy Award for THE CITY AND THE CITY last year, naturally everybody reads EMBASSYTOWN already thinking, “Should I nominate this for the Hugo?” So of course it got nominated for the Hugo and Nebula and everything.

Well . . . One can see why. I’m still trying to decide if I actually liked it. I’m not sure. I didn’t really like the narrator (the book’s in the first person) for most of the book. Actually, I hardly thought the narrator (Avice) had an actual personality for most of the book. I guess she did . . . not a very interesting personality? To me? Or something?

Which may kind of be the idea, because Avice is supposed to be sort of permanently drifting through life in a not very committed way, and at the end that’s no longer the case, but I suspect that even if Mieville wrote her that way on purpose, the effect was to make me feel that the protagonist just was so uninteresting for the first, I don’t know, maybe 3/4 of the book. Which is a lot of time to not really care about the, hello, protagonist of the book.

Certainly I did not “fall in love” with any of the characters, and you definitely can’t expect to “fall into the story”, either, and that more distant feeling leaves me, not disappointed exactly, but . . . well, I wouldn’t have nominated it, okay? Even though I can see very well it’s good in other ways.

What other ways? Well, it’s a setting novel and an idea novel. The setting is far future and it’s done well; the idea is based around this wild double-brained language and that’s really kinda cool; the major problem doesn’t appear till about 100 pages in and doesn’t start to snowball into OMG WE ARE SO SCREWED territory for about another 100 pages after that.

After which there is quite a bit of excitement, I grant you. I don’t want to provide any spoilers, so I’ll just say I read that part MUCH faster than I read the first 3/4 of the novel. And I wound up liking Avice much better at the end — she was more engaged in her world, and therefore so was I.

In contrast, I loved THE CITY AND THE CITY (that’s the only other Mieville I’ve read, though UN LUN DUN is on my TBR pile downstairs). The setting was more intimate, both more jarring and more familiar — it’s a murder mystery set in a middle European city (sort of), and while you read it, you keep asking yourself, Really? And you can’t quite figure out how the Beszel / Ul Qoma thing actually works, but it’s just so cool.

And besides, I loved Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad. And since I’m a character-driven reader, that makes all the difference.

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That distant ‘thwip!’ sound you hear —

Is the sound of 29 pp vanishing from my WIP. Thwip!

Actually, a bit of it will be added back in as I hand important lines to someone else in a different scene . . . but fundamentally I have just turned TWO talky chapters into ONE talky chapter, which I think will work better. Can’t have everybody just sit around and discuss things ALL the time. Right? Right!

Then I’m going to have this one thing happen on stage instead of off, and move this other event up to the part of the book that hasn’t been written . . . oh, it is all a nuisance, but I am happier with the structure of the book already, so I guess it was a good idea to go back and mess with it.

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Time to revise, I guess.

Because I now have decided to change the timing of two major events. Darn it. If I was an outliner this wouldn’t happen. (I expect other annoying things would happen instead.)

I’m going to reserve this one thing that I have happening in about Chapter Three and Four, push it way up to about Chapter Six and Seven (roughly). That’ll sort of combine with my earlier decision to combine a couple early chapters and zap some pages. I’m at 70,000 words more or less and I can see I have too much length for where I am, and anyway it will just make more sense to do it the way I now have in mind, but it’s going to be a nuisance.

Although for me, big huge plot revisions are not as difficult as little fiddly building-characterization revisions.

Plus I skipped over one scene — nothing wrong with it, actually it should be sort of fun to write, but I skipped it for various reasons. Guess if I go back and start revisions, it’ll be a good time to fill that in. I mean, I have people referring to events that haven’t been written yet, might be best to make all that stuff happen.

Also! By some miracle, it occurred to me how I could change upcoming scenes to streamline the story and build tension more smoothly before I wrote those scenes. That’s certainly different.

Losing a bunch of pages won’t bother me too much at this point, I think, because I have enough written now that losing some won’t make me feel too much like I’m going backwards. Plus I can see I’m going to way overshoot my 120,000 word limit, which it’s okay with me if I overshoot a bit, but please not too much, okay? Big cuts are such a hassle, not to mention all the extra time it takes to write a lot of extra pages you’re not going to keep anyway.

Plus rereading everything I have as I revise should let me see if stuff is running smoothly from the front to the back, which will be nice.

So . . . that’s the plan. As of today. As always, subject to me changing my mind at a moment’s notice.

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Ooh! Ooh! I’m a “semi-colon”!

Here’s a fun fake personality test:

What your favorite punctuation says about you.

The funniest one? For me, that’d be the en-dash.

But I have an objective measure of punctuation overuse! Because at the end of a ms? I go through and do a “Find” for semi-colons and take out a bunch. It’s a tedious exercise that takes about 3 hours, but I think it’s important. You can’t get away with three semi-colons per paragraph unless you’re Jane Austin. Or Naomi Novik.

So, overusing semi-colons! That’s great! Because who wouldn’t want to be fall into this category? “You’re well-read and urbane. You knew where this was on the keyboard before it became part of the winky emoticon. You’re more easy-going than Colon or Period types, but you’re still put together and usually organized. People are comfortable around you and tend to like you, though they may not be able to say exactly why.”

I also take out quite a lot of em-dashes, though. So if a taste for em-dashes means: “You’re stuck up and pretentious. You correct people’s grammar and complain about how stupid kids are these days. You like to show off. You made good grades in school and perform well at work. Your boss loves you, even if your co-workers don’t.”

So if I overuse two elements of grammar, do I get to pick the personality type I prefer? I almost never correct people’s grammar. Except under my breath when I can’t stand it. : )

Actually, as personality predictions, these probably come as close as astrological symbols . . .

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The world is filled with distractions . . .

Some of them clamoring for attention with surprising urgency. Like, for example, the apricots.

This is the first year we’ve really gotten a good crop of apricots. Missouri is really too cold to expect to get apricots — we’re told to expect a crop about 2 out of 7 years, and I think that’s probably accurate.

They’re beautiful when they’re ripening, though.

And beautiful in the bowl, too.

I don’t much care for fresh apricots just as something to, you know, eat. Although the little tiny ‘Sweetheart’ apricots, barely larger than cherries, are good just out of hand.

But of course there’s an infinite number of very tasty things to do with apricots. It may amuse you to know — depends, I guess — but yesterday? I had pancakes with apricot syrup for breakfast, fresh apricots for dessert at lunch, chicken with apricot sauce for supper (plus snow peas and stuff, but let’s stay focused, right?) and then I couldn’t decide which to try, so I had a little sliver of apricot cheesecake AND an apricot-sunny-side up pastry to finish off the day.

The apricot-sunny-side-up pastries come for Julia Child, but I didn’t use the puff pastry base she recommends — I used a sweet pie pastry. Then you layer on ordinary pastry cream and poached apricot halves. Very tasty and not actually too much trouble.

The apricot cheesecake was even easier — I just used a pumpkin cheesecake recipe, but took out all the spices and substituted 16 oz of a thick simmered-down apricot puree instead of pumpkin. Except come to think of it, I was a little worried the puree might be too liquidy compared to pumpkin, so I added an extra 8 oz cream cheese, an extra egg, and an extra 1/4 C sugar, plus 3 Tbsp flour. It worked great. Honestly, you can’t beat cheesecake, right?

The apricot chicken was quite good. I added sugar and balsamic vinegar to the apricots and let that set while I sauted cubed chicken breasts. Then I pureed half the apricots and added the puree and a tsp of hot sauce and a little water, simmered that to reduce, added the rest of the apricots, and there you go.

So that was The Day of Apricots. Now my mother’s home from visiting relatives, and SHE can take over picking and processing apricots!

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