Adios, for now

Dear Readers,

As many of you are likely aware, I’m headed off to Honduras for a few weeks.  My day job as an archaeologist calls me away on my annual research expedition.  I’ll be living in the west-central town of Jesus de Otoro with my project co-director, our field director, and 9 undergraduates who we’ll be attempting to instruct in the ways of the archaeological world (and keep out of trouble).

We’ll be excavating and conducting research at the Lenca site of Sinsimbla, teaching the students how to excavate, analyzing artifacts, and eating a lot of beans and fried chicken.  I won’t be posting on this blog for the duration, but we’ll be recounting our adventures over on the PADO archaeology project blog (provided we’re able to get internet access, that is).

If you’re of a mind, check in over there from time to time.  You’ll be rewarded with the real story about what it means to be an archaeologist.  Sorry, Indy, it ain’t all Nazis and bull whips!  Well, not usually.

See you when I get back!

Hasta luego 🙂

June gone too soon

Another month, another monthly run-down.

1. I’m happy to say that June saw me bring the thunder on my rough draft of ABSENT.  I hammered out nearly 25,000 words this month.  Most of those words were of the craptastic variety, but as Chuck Wendig has rightly said: the draft is for writing the words, the revision is for making the words not suck.  I’m almost done with the novel, but finishing it will have to wait until I return from the field in mid-July.  As will the aforementioned ‘making it not suck’.

2. I started a new short story this month–a steampunk/horror mashup set during the Second Seminole War that focuses on skull collectors and the nefarious uses they put to their macabre prizes.  It’s threatening, though, to turn into a novel on me.

3. I’ve got 5 other shorts, plus BLOOD RED SUN, out to markets and agents.  Lots of waiting on that front.  World-building and outlining on my urban fantasy novel has stalled; set aside in favor of trying to finish ABSENT.  I hope to return to that in July.

4.I did a bundle o’beta reading this month: one novel for my crit partner, Eric, which I finished, and another that I’m halfway through.  In addition, I did three short story crits this month.  All told, I read and critted well over 180,000 words in June.

5. Even with all that beta reading to do, I managed to squeeze in a fair amount of pleasure reading, making my way through Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (a re-read), The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, Hexed by Kevin Hearne, The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

6.  School’s out, so no day job to weigh me down.  Ah, lazy, lovely summer.

7. In the travel department, I journeyed to Miami to visit a friend and am off tomorrow to Honduras to work on my archaeological field project.

So, June was busy, as every month seems to be, but it will pale in comparison to what’s coming down the pike in July.  I’ve got the aforementioned archaeological expedition for the first half of the month, then a trip up to Boston to attend Readercon, and then the hubby and I are moving into the apartment we’ve just bought.  So, deep breath….here we go!

How was your month?

Fairy tales

Last month I heard Cat Valente read an excerpt from her novel “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making” at the New York Public Library.  It was captivating and I resolved to go forth and read it as soon as possible.  Then I got busy.  Today I saw this trailer (recently released by Macmillian):

…and was reminded all over again that I must get my hands on this book.

Have any of you read it?  Thoughts?  Isn’t this the coolest book trailer ever?

Writer’s Workspace: 6/22

Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on:  with exactly a week to go before I leave for the field, I’m powering ahead in a last ditch effort to try and finish the first draft of ABSENT before heading south to Honduras.  I estimate I’ve got to write around 5K per day to meet this goal, and, in all likelihood, I will not make it.  Most probably, I will fail spectacularly.  Still, gotta try!

Snippet from the screen:

“Davis smiled at them genially enough, but his curiosity was clear.  His eyes lingered on their jeans and T-shirts.  “Where did you say you were from again?”

“We’re Americans,” Reid said.

“Ah.  Americans!”  Davis nodded as if this explained everything.”

On the iTunes:  at the moment, I’m listening to “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum.  But 3 minutes and 57 seconds from now, it’s anyone’s guess.

Keeping me company:  Well, my good-for-nothing cat is supposed to be lounging nearby, looking adorable, and occasionally allowing me to pet and feed him…BUT he’s opted instead to snooze on top of the refrigerator and utterly, completely ignore me.  Ungrateful cuss.  I’d include a photo, but since it’d just be of one of his ears barely visible above the cabinet edge, what’s the point?

Out the window:  it’s a beautiful, sunny day in Brooklyn and I’m enjoying the air conditioning while it lasts (it’s 96 degrees and 2,000% humidity in Honduras right now, and the village we live in while excavating is a 100% air conditioning-free zone).

In my mug:  Numi Chinese Breakfast tea

A little procrastination never hurt anyone:  first, you can head over to my archaeology blog and read up on my field project in Honduras.  Then, check out Chuck Wendig’s 25 things to know about writing a novel – funny and true.  And, if that ain’t enough for you, my dear, insatiable reader, mosey on over to Query Shark for a little truth smackdown.

Procrastination, deadlines, and other dilemmas

Update from the front, dear Readers!

I am getting close enough to finishing ABSENT that I can see the hoary light at the end of the tunnel!  I have decided, at virtually the last minute, to go do several weeks of archaeological field work in Honduras!  I am attempting to Beta-read two novels at once!  I have become overly fond of exclamation points (perhaps due to an excess of caffeine coursing through my veins!)

Yes, it is an exclamation point kind of week around the Suri household.  We have celebrated three years of lovely married life, have signed away our life savings on a new apartment, and have lined up so much travel for the month of July (all, of course, at the last minute) that I’m not sure it’s physically possible to accomplish it.  Most notable among our coming adventures is my decision to return to Honduras this summer to continue my archaeological research.

There will be more on this in future posts (and here’s a link to the project blog, for those of you who want to follow our adventures in the field), but in short: I co-direct an archaeological field school in Honduras.  The last time we were down doing work (2009), a coup d’etat happened.  It was not pleasant, and we haven’t been back since.  So, this is a big undertaking, and hopefully one that will go smoothly, as we’re taking 9 undergraduates with us.

On the writing front, I’ve been making happy-fun progress on the first draft of ABSENT, my archaeology time-travel novel.  With my new daily word count goal in place, I’ve cruised through about 8,000 words in the last week or so.  The climax is just a few chapters away, to be followed by another few chapters of denouement.  Is there a chance I could finish this bad boy before I leave for Honduras?  Probably not.  But what the hell, I’m gonna try anyway.  Wish me luck!

Complicating matters is that I’m now Beta-reading two novels at once.  Such is the danger of swapping novel critiques, in which the owed critique may arrive at an unspecified date in the future – you can end up with more than you can handle.  Both critiques are for writing buddies who’ve done me more than their share of favors and are due my best when it comes to payback.  So I’m going to power through.  Fortunately, I just bought an e-reader, the Nook Simple Touch (I’ll be sure to review this after I’ve given it a good work out), so I’m going to try to do one of the crits on the e-reader and see how that goes.

Clearly, I’ve got a busy week or so coming down the pike.  How about you all?

Oh, and this marks the 100th post since I started my blog last November. Nifty!

Book Review: Hounded

Hounded by Kevin Hearne (2011, Urban Fantasy, 289 pages)

Hounded is the first book in the new Iron Druid Chronicles, which follow the adventures of a 2,000 year old Celtic Druid.  The story is set in modern-day Phoenix, where the protagonist (Atticus O’Sullivan) is living as the twenty-something owner of an occult shop and doing his level best to keep off the radar of the various gods, goddess, and magical creatures he’s pissed off over the centuries (in this world, all the gods are real – every religion, every last one of them).

Atticus is witty and irreverent, with just the right touch of world-weary thrown in, and he makes for pleasant company.  The story of Hounded follows the efforts of a Celtic god to recover a magical sword that Atticus took off him in battle centuries ago — basically, it’s an ancient grudge match.  Various other creatures join the fight on either side – the Morrigan, goddess of death, a bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, Atticus’ vampire and werewolf lawyers, a nosy neighbor, and Atticus’ companion, an Irish wolfhound he communicates with through telepathy.  If this sounds like a ridiculous mash-up, it is.  It’s also a lot of fun.

Hearne has actually done a really great job of a taking what could read like a big pile o’ nonsense and making you buy into the world.  The various gods and goddess behave just as you might imagine deities who’ve been around for aeons but must blend into the modern world would act.  Likewise, in lesser hands a telepathic conversation between a 2,000 year old Druid and an Irish wolfhound might come off as cheesy beyond measure.  Hearne dodges this (just) by infusing their relationship with real charm — the wolfhound can communicate and is interested in human culture and knowledge, but, at the end of the day, he’s a dog and Hearne never lets us forget it.

The pacing is good, the twists come aplenty, and the characters are lots of fun to spend time with.  Better yet, Del Rey has chosen to release all three of the books in rapid succession; the second in the series, Hexed, just came out last week, and Hammered, the third, will follow in short order.

These books are perfect summer reads – fun, action-packed, creative, and humorous.

Taking the e-reader plunge

Well, I’ve decided to buy an e-reader.  Shelf-space is what finally pushed me over the edge, to be honest.  As I begin to think about packing (the hubby and I have bought an apartment and will be moving next month!), all I can think of is how horrible it will be to deal with the mountain of books I’ve accumulated.  There’s so many of them, and they’re so heavy.  Have they been breeding and snacking when I wasn’t looking? And where will we put them all in our lovely new place?

Maybe a tiny electronic device that holds thousands of books ain’t such a bad idea after all.

So, which e-reader do you think I should get?  I don’t want to break the bank (I already spend enough money on books as it is) and want something simple and straightforward that provides the best reading experience.  I’m currently leaning towards the new Nook Simple Touch Reader.  But I humbly request your advice in the comments.  What factors are most important to consider and what have your own e-reading experiences been?


Writer’s Workspace: 6/8

Good morning!  Welcome to this writer’s workspace.  Here’s what’s happening liiiiiiiiiiiiiive at Miranda’s desk:

What I’m working on:  One word for you all today: NOVEL.  Must finish the first draft.  Now that summer’s rolling along and I no longer have even the minor time pressures of my day job, I’ve decided to enforce a daily word count.  1500 a day and not a word less.  Most days I’ll get more, but if I don’t force myself to do at least this much I might get swallowed whole by the gaping maw of excuses (e.g. “I’ve got all the time in world,” “I’ll start writing after I view every Netflix watch-instantly movie from the 1980’s,” “Maybe I should clean out my closet/bookshelf/pantry/magazine rack again?” “Oh! Is that the ice cream truck I hear?”).  So, the novel and at least 1500 words.  Go.

Snippet from the screen:  “Dinner was a blur; Nick barely knew what he ate.  Music rolled over them in waves, crashing gently across the room.  He drank bourbon.  She had champagne.  They talked, telling each other stories about their lives, sharing secrets, leaning in across the table.”

On the iTunes: Rolling in the Deep, by Adele

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses has been shunning me lately.  Whenever the hubby is out of town (as he is now), it becomes abundantly clear that Ramses prefers him vastly and actually might even hate me.  He appears only to imperiously demand food and play time (then looks at me disinterestedly once I actually get the toys out), or to bite me.  Good times around here, folks!

In my mug: Ceylon tea, slightly over-steeped and a little bitter.  But who am I kidding?  Of course I’ll drink it all.

Out my window:  95 degrees and sunny, as if God had taken a magnifying glass, held it down towards Brooklyn, and said “ROAST LITTLE PRIMATES, ROAST!”  The window A/C units are gasping like marathon runners in the final mile and it’s only 9am.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone: (except, as noted above, me).  But, nevertheless…  Check out Chuck Wendig on when to quit writing over at Terrible Minds.  It seems sleepless nights as a new dad have only spurred him to more humorous heights.  Or, if you prefer something a bit more serious, the lovely Mary Robinette Kowal has joined the team at Writing Excuses; go listen to their latest podcast on creativity.

Better yet, head to the comments and tell me what you’re up to today, what links you’d like share, or how blisteringly hot it is where you are.

Then go write.  Seriously.

Edit me: tricks for revising

As many of you know, I recently finished my second novel, BLOOD RED SUN.  Part of this process involved a lot of serious revising and editing.  Awhile back, I wrote a post about some of the changes I felt I needed to make and how I approached revising as a process.  Today I follow up on that post by sharing the revising and editing tricks I used.  I make no special claims at expertise here,  but merely share things I found useful in the hopes that you may too.

Revising and editing a novel poses two major differences from revising a short story: 1. keeping track of of all the different threads in the novel, and 2. getting through its not-inconsiderable bulk without losing focus.  For the former, the use of a diagram or spreadsheet can be really useful; create rows for each chapter and columns for its setting, the characters present, the action that occurs, the character development that occurs, and so forth.  I use strikethrough and different colors to keep track of changes.

When it comes to keeping focus, I create a hierarchy of revisions – big stuff (plot changes, character development, and so on) first, followed by smaller changes (improvement of setting, fine-tuning description details, etc.), and, finally, editing.  Then, for each type of revision, I make multiple passes through the manuscript.

In the final revisions of BLOOD RED SUN I had several areas I knew I wanted to revise.  One was to improve the textural feel of the world (the sights, sounds, tastes, and so forth).  Another was to work on bringing out my protagonist’s thoughts and feelings; showing her emotions through her actions and reactions.  Doing both of these things at once seemed daunting, so I separated them and gave my full attention to each in different passes through the novel.  This might seem like it would take more time, but it actually speeds things up — you move through each chapter more quickly because you are working on just one thing, and one thing only.

Still, during an editing pass I sometimes find I can maintain clear-eyed focus for only a few chapters.  At that point, I stop being able to edit and just start reading.  When you’re reading, your eyes tend to skip over small errors and you forget exactly what it is you were supposed to be looking for in the first place.  Worse, you get fatigued and the earlier chapters end up being much more highly revised and edited than the later ones.

One way to overcome this challenge is to break the novel up into non-contiguous sections.  A trick I found effective was to revise randomly.  I wrote all the chapter numbers on little slips of paper and put them in a bowl.  I’d draw one, revise whatever chapter was listed, and then draw another.  This kept me from getting pulled into the story and allowed me to focus on the book in little sections, really honing my editing knife.

When I draft, I also often leave bits unwritten.  These bits are peppered throughout the novel, written in brackets, and colored red to remind me of their languishing and unloved state.  An example: [insert DESCRIPTION OF THE CAMP here] or [look up SPECIES OF SNAKE].  During revision I have to go back and fix all these bad boys.  Many of them tend to be description related and it can get tough to think up beautiful new descriptions off the cuff.

To solve this problem, I create master documents with descriptions of the world.  BLOOD RED SUN was a desert world, so I had fifteen different ways of describing the sand, twenty-five different ways of describing cactus (plus a list of all the species of cactus), ten different ways of talking about the way morning light hits the mountains, how the air smells after it rains, and so on.  As I went through the manuscript, I’d use these descriptions in appropriate places, marking them off on the master sheet so I wouldn’t repeat them.  This worked so well for me that I actually ended up doing separate sheets for descriptions of the various cities, of the clothing people wore, and of the food they ate.

Finally, for the smallest level stuff – fixing typos, excising excess words, and tightening the prose — I used the method laid out in the 10% Solution (a genius little book).  Here you use the search function in your word processing program to focus on a single word (“that” or “of” or “was”, for instance).  You go through each and every instance of this in the novel and decide whether to revise, remove, or keep the offending sentence.  This is sooooo tedious, BUT it really works because it forces you to focus at the level of the sentence without any other distractions, something you could never do if you were reading as opposed to using ‘search’.  The method is called the 10% Solution because it usually results in you axing about 10% of your word count (all of it flab).

So, those are my tricks:

  • Using a spreadsheet to keep track of your plot lines, characters, and arcs
  • Making multiple passes, each focused on a very specific type of revision
  • Chopping the novel up into sections and editing them randomly as opposed to reading through them in order
  • Using master sheets for world-building (descriptions, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, etc)
  • Using the 10% Solution to hone the manuscript into a lean, mean machine

What do you think – do any of these things sounds helpful?  Are you already doing some of them?  What other editing and revising tricks have you found effective?

Do tell.

Library cards are for the birds

So, a fellow writer and blogger, Amy Sundberg, has started a new series she’s calling the Backbone Project.  The idea is to assert opinions and viewpoints without apology, to be unafraid of stating things others might disagree with, and generally to say “no” to writing bland blog posts.  Amy has also enlisted all of us to help her out.  Because I love Amy’s blog and think I could probably stand to be a bit less wishy-washy myself, I’ve decided to chime in with a back-bony post of my own.  So, after reading, feel free to share your outraged disagreement in the comments!

My opinion for the day is as follows:  I think library cards are for the birds.

I’m a prime candidate for a library card.  I read a lot (I mean REALLY a lot – usually upwards of 6-9 books a month).  I’m not rolling in cash, so forking over for every book I read is far from financially prudent.  I live in New York City, which (unlike many other places) still has a moderately functioning library system.  Also, our apartment is very small and shelf space is not to be squandered.  Everyone is always telling me “ooh, you really should get a library card.  It’s such a good thing.  You’re such a fool to pay for books” blah, blah, blah.

I ain’t gettin’ one and nothing you can say will change my mind.

Here’s why:

1. I’m the most impatient person alive. 

I often find it hard to wait for a book to arrive from Amazon (and we use Amazon Prime, so the wait is generally less than 2 days).  I want my booky-books, and I want them NOW.  The library never seems to have the books I want, or if they do there’s a wait of like 10 million years to get them.  Thanks, but no thanks.

2. The hoops the library requires me to jump through drive me nuts (I mean actually, hair-pullingly nuts). 

An example: I did, in fact, sign up for a library card when we first moved to Brooklyn.  I eagerly went home and fired up the computer to search for all the books I wanted to read.  The online system was impenetrable, a veritable maze of branches and rules and forms.  I was slavering with irritation by the time I finally finished navigating the darn thing.  I found like two of the 10 books I was searching for and gave up in frustration (see #1).  About a year later, I went into my local branch to check out some books for research and was told that because of the inactivity on my account I had re-apply for a card.  Not renew.  Reapply.  Really?  Yes, really.  I had to start all over, producing a piece of mail proving my local address and everything.  Forget you, library.

3. I love being the first person to crack open a new book. 

I love having rows and rows of all the books I read lined up on my shelf like trophies.  I love being able to pass books I enjoyed on to my friends and family.  You can’t do any of that with library books, which often (let’s be honest) smell like cat pee.

4. As a writer, I think it’s a reasonable thing to support authors. 

I know how hard it is for authors to make a living and I see no reason not to pay for the works they labor so hard to produce.  If I didn’t dislike the library for reasons 1-3, I would espouse the view that readers should pay only for the books of authors they really love, or for the books they can afford, and get the rest from the library.  But I do dislike the library for reasons 1-3.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think libraries are wonderful things.  Just because I don’t want to use them doesn’t mean millions of other people shouldn’t.  Just because I can afford (barely and arguably) to buy books doesn’t mean other people can’t.  I am NOT OPPOSED TO LIBRARIES.  I just don’t want to jump through so many stupid hoops, navigate confusing and poorly laid out online systems, and then wait and wait and wait just to read a book.  Hence, my opposition to the acquisition of a library card.

So, library-lovers, let me have it!