Writer’s Workspace: 2/26

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

What’s that? you say. It’s been so long since I posted one of these, I’d forgive you for thinking this writer wasn’t working much these days. But I am! In fact, I’ve been on quite the streak lately. I was a little worried that tackling 3 classes this semester — all different and one a new prep — would ring a death knell for writing productivity. Some weeks, I’ll admit, it kind of has, but overall I’ve gotten a lot more written than I anticipated. Last week I had a 4K day, followed by a 2.5K day, and I’m hoping to top that this week.

What I’m working on:  The last push of revisions on what will hopefully be the last big redraft of ABSENT (my archaeological time travel novel). I’ve got several projects waiting not-so-patiently in the wings, so this one needs to wrap up, and soon!

Snippet from the screen: “Emily slumped forward, tilting, tilting, tilting until she was no longer leaning but falling. Her breath caught. The ground seemed to open beneath her feet–or maybe just vanish–and she fell for what seemed an age. Then, quite suddenly, she was sitting on a low mud-brick wall once again. Only this time the wall wasn’t a ruin. The ancient city of Ur spread around her, hushed as if under some spell. Moonlight glanced off worn cobble streets and dark alleys wound away in every direction.”


Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses, as usual, is my biggest cheerleader. He’s been spending a lot of time snuggled in his Tower of Terror, which is situated right behind my office chair.

On the iTunes: I’ve been listening to a lot of cheery music lately. The Lumineers’ Ho Hey is playing now.

In my mug: Royal English Breakfast. Hot.

Out the window: undifferentiated wintertime. Grey sky. Bare branches. Garbage blowing in the uncaring breeze. Yuck.

…and, that’s my workspace update for today. No time to waste on procrastinatory links, I’m sorry to say.

But I always have time for you – so leave a note in the comments and let me know what you’re up to today!

Writer’s Workspace: 10/17

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

What I’m working on:  This month is my finish-ABSENT-come-hell-or-high-water month.  So, that’s what I’m trying to do.  Based on feedback from all my fabulous Beta readers, I’m working on the third (and hopefully final) round of revisions.  Honestly, progress is a little slower than I’d like, though–probably cause I’ve got a huge stack of midterm exams to grade 😦

Snippet from the screen:  “Reid Rencher stood in the hallway, the flickering bulb casting his handsome face half in shadow.  Emily stared at him, horrifically aware she’d neither brushed her hair nor changed out of the I heart New York T-shirt and pair of old boxers she’d slept in the night before.  Reid grinned, taking in the half-empty glass clutched in her hand.  “I know you’ve been avoiding me, but I braved the G train to get here and I didn’t come empty-handed.”  He waggled the wine bottle he carried.  Like Reid himself, it looked expensive.  “Can I come in?”

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses has been surly lately and retreated to the bedroom.  At least it looks like he’s having sweet dreams 😉


On the iTunes: Tangled up in Blue by Bob Dylan

In my mug: a cup of Harrods #14 tea

Out the window: Fall.  It’s officially arrived in Brooklyn, replete with browning leaves, a chilly wind, and cloudy skies.  Sigh.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone:  well, that’s not really true, but whatevs!  Here’s a post from Amy Sundberg taking a frank look at social media and writer priorities.  Check it out.  Also, an interesting look at the whole Reddit thing from John Scalzi over at Whatever.  And, finally, because who doesn’t like a cookie that’s really a brownie (or a brownie that’s really a cookie?) a yummy looking recipe from Food and Wine.  If you’re going to waste time and procrastinate, at least you can have some baked goods to show for it.

Next Big Thing

Nicky Drayden tagged me in her Next Big Thing post and told me to talk about my WIP, then tag other authors and ask them to talk about their WIPs.

So…here goes!

Ten Questions for the Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

The working title is ABSENT

2. Where did the idea for the book come from?

Well, I teach archaeology and one semester I had a student who was always asking what this or that would be like if we had a time machine.  It became a sort of running joke in class and when I was casting around for novel ideas in advance of NaNoWriMo I thought, “gee, what would happen if I accidentally sent my students back in time to the places I’m lecturing about?”  From there, the idea for the book was born.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

I actually struggle with this a bit.  The novel is set in modern day New York City, Ices Ages Wyoming, and an archaeological excavation in 1925 Iraq.  It’s part police procedural, part mystery, part romance, and part time travel adventure.  Oh, and there’s magic, an immortal Sumerian king, and antiquities thieves.  So, I have no idea where it falls – other than clearly being spec. fic.

4. Which actors would you chose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I can picture Kristen Bell playing Emily Blake, our spunky heroine with a hot mess of a personal and professional life.  She’d nail the balance of self-deprecation, humor, and determination.  Or maybe Jennifer Lawrence.  For Detective Nick Martin, the slow-to-trust NYPD cop who investigates the disappearance of Emily’s students, I’d cast Richard Armitage.  I mean, the dude does brooding too well not to cast him.  If you haven’t seen the BBC miniseries North and South, go watch it now.  You can thank me later.

Ryan Reynolds would be my choice for the d-bag, golden boy Assistant Professor who starts all the trouble in the first place by casting a Sumerian spell on Emily, and either Romola Garai or Carey Mulligan to play Alexa, Emily’s quirky, punk BFF.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

After accidentally sending her students back to the Ice Ages, archaeology professor Emily Blake becomes the prime suspect in the NYPD’s missing persons investigation and must race through time to prove her innocence and rescue the students before they become trapped in prehistory forever.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Once the novel is ready, I’ll be seeking agency representation and traditional publishing for it.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft?

I started this project for NaNoWriMo and though I didn’t net the full 50K in 30 days, it set me on a good course of forward momentum.  I’d say I got the first full draft (about 80K) written over the course of 4 or 5 months.  Revisions…well, that’s another matter.  I’m currently on the 3rd round of revisions.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

Uh…not sure.  I mean I guess there’s some obvious parallels to Crighton’s Timeline, but my novel mashes up a lot of styles and sub-genres.  I like to think it’s an original 😉

9. Who, or what, inspired you to write this novel?

That student, who shall remain nameless, who was always on about time travel in my archaeology class.  Thanks, kid!

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, despite its spec. fic. flavor, I’m writing about what I know – academia, archaeology, and prehistory.  So for anyone who’s wondered what it would really be like to travel back in time to the Ice Ages, or what it’s actually like to be a professor or work on an archaeological dig, this book is for you.  Also for those who loved Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, my novel recreates that same 1920’s expedition at the site of Ur in Iraq–albeit from a very different angle.  Plus, there’s giant bears, avalanches, and an encounter between Emily and a 10,000 year old Sumerian king.

Include the link of who tagged you, and an explanation for who you have tagged.

The incomparable Nicky Drayden tagged me — go check out her blog and her hilarious short fiction.

I’m also tagging the following writers to take up the torch and discuss their current WIPs – check their blogs over the next few weeks to see their projects written up for the Next Big Thing!

Cath Schaff-Stump

Peter Sursi

Micah Joel

Sean Craven

Why I write

Well, it’s been a hell of a week and a half around here, but I’ve found (as I have in other hard times) that writing can be a pretty good balm for unhappiness.

Since returning from my father-in-law’s funeral in New Orleans, I’ve been slowly trying to reestablish a (small) sense of normalcy.  Writing has been a big part of this.  I’ve continued work on my newest novel project, Project Awesome, which (coincidentally) addresses issues of loss, and I’ve started revising one of the shorts I wrote during my story-a-week experiment.

The Olympics have helped, too – nothing like a multi-week marathon of excellence and victory to lift your spirits (or, if you watch too much, numb you to everything).

This summer has also been one of travel for me.  In fact, out of the 11 weeks since the semester ended I’ve spent over half (6) of them on the road.  And…I’m leaving again on Tuesday for a week-long visit to Seattle.  I thought this might have a negative effect on my writing productivity, but I ran the numbers and I’ve actually written a respectable amount.

Since the summer started, I’ve drafted 15,000 new words on Project Awesome.  I’ve read and processed feedback on ABSENT and devised a plan for revising that novel.  Finally, I’ve drafted four new short stories (totaling about 8,000 words).  I didn’t write at all in Spain, or last week in New Orleans, so excluding those three weeks, that’s about 3,000 words a week (not counting the revision work on ABSENT).

Not my highest weekly average, but not bad for such a topsy-turvy few months.  More than anything, I’ve been reminded through all of the highs and lows of this summer that writing isn’t just something I want or like to do, it’s something I need to do.  Writing gives me a sense of purpose and strength.

Do I want to be successful?  Do I want to sell books and make money?  Of course I do, and I believe with hard work and patience, those things will come.  More and more, though, I’m realizing they are not the reason I continue to write.

I write because it is the most fun thing I’ve ever done, because it provides me with challenges and puzzles and stretches my imagination and brings me joy.  I also write because it’s the best way I can find to make sense of life – especially when life hands me a bucket of really rotten lemons and I have no choice but to drink their bitter juice.

Like right now.

So, if you will excuse me, I think I’m going to make some tea (the other balm for my soul) and go write.

Writer’s Workspace: 7/5

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

What I’m working on:  I’m waiting for a few last critiques on the 2nd draft of my archaeological time travel novel, ABSENT.  Once they roll in, I’ll begin collating and processing the feedback so I can start revising.  In the meantime, though, I’m pressing ahead on my newest writing project (a dark Urban Fantasy set in the Pacific Northwest that I’ll refer to henceforth as PROJECT AWESOME).  I’m about 16k in on PROJECT AWESOME and pretty happy with where it’s going.  My protagonist has just lost everything important to her (or so she thinks) and is hell-bent on some ill conceived revenge.  Here’s…

…A snippet from the screen:  “The fireplace was dark and soot-stained, the walls charred.  Someone had righted the dining room table, though, and as I walked around it I saw a spray of blood stained one of the legs.  I tried not to look at it, but that was like asking a dog to ignore its own shit.  I sat down on the floor, legs splayed out, shoulders slumped, and I ran my fingers up the table leg.  The dark pattern of Daniel’s blood looked almost beautiful against the grain.”

On the iTunes:  I’ve put together a new playlist of generally downbeat, mournful, angry, or depressing songs to help get me in the proper mindset to channel my main character’s bitterness and rage.  Playing now?  Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.

Photo: Ramses celebrates the 4th like he does everything else: asleep.

Keeping me company: Mr. Ramses, H.R.M. King of Cats, has ascended his throne and settled in for his morning/afternoon/evening/nighttime nap.  Until his royal belly starts to growl, I anticipate hearing little more from him than the occasional sleepy-kitty sigh.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone:  LIES!  Sorry, not going to share distracting links with you today, dear Reader.  I have been burning in a fiery pit of procrastinatory you-know-where lately and I don’t wish that on you.  Go and be productive, or take a walk in the sunshine, or read a book…but don’t procrastinate on the internet (she says as she checks Facebook again…).

A day made of awesome

So.  All sorts of exciting things happened around the Suri household in the last 24 hours.

First, I finally finished the second draft of ABSENT.  It needs a light edit, but it is DONE and should be in the hands of readers by the weekend — all of whom I fully expect to eviscerate it so I can put it back together again in the third draft.  Still, a momentous occasion and one I celebrated with a burger and milkshake.  As one does.

Second, I  just got word that my short story DISCARDED was awarded Honorable Mention in the 1st Quarter Writers of the Future contest, which is not as nice as winning but still quite nice 🙂

And, finally, in the category of Now it Can be Told, I’d also like to share the thrilling news that the upheaval has resolved itself in the best and most awesome way possible.  A few months back it became rather abruptly clear that my husband, Sid, was going to have to say goodbye to Yahoo! and seek his fortunes elsewhere.  This was sad because he had a really wonderful and productive four years there, loved his research team, and (depressingly) the search for a new job looked like it would take us away from our beloved NYC.

Well, it turns out that Sid and his colleagues at Yahoo! Research NYC are so deeply and fabulously fabulous that Microsoft decided to hire the lot of them and open a brand-new shiny lab in New York.  Just for them.  Because they are awesome.  The coolest thing about all of this, in my opinion, is that despite each member of the team having several quite tempting individual offers at other companies, they chose to turn them down and go, as a unit, to Microsoft.  Speaks to how special their collaboration is, and makes me so happy they’ll be able to continue it.  For those who are interested, here’s an article on the whole thing from the New York Times, and another from Microsoft themselves.  *beams with pride*

So, the title of the post really says it all:  it’s a day made of awesome.

Writer’s Workspace: 4/30

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

What I wish I was working on: the final five chapters of ABSENT (I am, at last, that close!)

What I’m actually working on:  writing an exam for my World Prehistory class.  But, if I’m lucky, I’ll finish that before the day is out and be able to return to the last frantic push to finish revisions on the novel 🙂  Newly added to this version: sex, death, and a side of betrayal.  Much juicier than version 1.

In general, the last week was one of nearly apocalyptic productivity for me.  I wrote over 10K words, watched almost no television (except, of course, Dancing with the Stars), and let everything else slide (laundry, errands, grocery shopping, personal hygiene…okay, kidding on that last one, but you get the idea).  Hence both productive and apocalyptic.

I also, for those of you following my mission to get healthier (e.g. lose 10lbs by August 31st) stayed pretty well on my new regimen this week.  I made all 3 of my cardio workouts and 4 of the 5 scheduled stretching/back-exercise sessions, meaning I had to write SHAME on my chart of shame for one day 😦  I did even better with the eating portion of the equation, keeping the calories below 1800 four days and below 1600 on three days.  I lost 1 pound, which puts me ahead of schedule.  Hopefully I’ll be strong willed enough to keep this going.  Wish me luck (please!).

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Snippet from the screen: “The morning of the funeral was brilliant and clear, which felt wrong to Emily.  Indecent, somehow.  Sun reflected off distant minarets and the chaplain from the British base said a few words over Alexa’s grave.”

On the iTunes: “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys

Keeping me company:  nobody, and everybody.  Sid is home this week (and the next two!) as he takes a vacation between jobs (yes, the upheaval has been resolved and Sid will be starting a new position in late May…more to follow when the details are declassified ;).  So, Ramses, being a disloyal little feline, is snuggled up down the hall in Sid’s office.  No doubt they are plotting my downfall together (or at least thinking of ways to make a mess in the apartment).

Out the window: disappointingly normal early spring weather.  Gone are the 80 degree days.  It is sunny and cool.  I know I shouldn’t complain, but heck…it’s chilly!  I want me some global warming induced summer sun!

No time to procrastinate today, so no time to hunt down procrastinatory links for you, dear Reader!  Apologies…but I’m off to the gym!

Archaeological inspiration

The Nabonidus phase Ziggurat in the late 1920's

As I bring revisions on draft #2 of ABSENT to a close, I’ve taken a brief commercial break to revisit my research.

The final third of the novel is set amidst the 1920’s-era excavations at the archaeological site of Ur, Iraq, and as much as my story is about magic and time travel (and adventure! and romance!), I want it grounded in real details.  I want it to feel authentic.

Reading through the first draft, one thing that struck me was how generic this portion of the novel felt.  Sure, I’m an archaeologist and I should be able to bring an archaeological expedition to life in prose, but I work in Central America — literally a world away from Mesopotamia.  Plus, I work in the 21st century, not 1925.  I realized drawing on my personal experiences wasn’t going to be enough; I needed to go to the source to understand what the Ur Expedition was like.

So, I spent the last four days pouring over the Ur Expedition Reports, a series of manuscripts penned by Sir Leonard Woolley to present his interpretation of two decades of archaeological research.  And quite a productive few days it has been.

The way archaeological work was conducted in the early part of the 20th century was so different from how we work now. 

Woolley employed an army of Iraqis to literally peel away millions of tons of soil and expose huge swaths of the ancient city, plowing down through jumbled historical and prehistoric time periods in various parts of the site, including the ziggurat, terrace, cemetery, and surrounding city.  The man excavated with a zeal that would be completely unsustainable (and un-fundable) today.

My goal in reading up on the excavations wasn’t just to get the specific terminology and time periods of Sumerian archaeology down, but also to find a part of the site for a particular artifact (invented and important to the plot) to be discovered.  It needed to come from a part of Ur that would make sense for the artifact (it being religious & political in nature), as well as one under excavation while my characters are there (late 1925-early 1926).  I combed through the reports and finally found the perfect spot, a part of the Court of Nannar excavated more or less within my time frame.

The spot in question is a sunken room sealed with bricks and buried beneath a destroyed building inside the court.  Woolley describes it as a possible gigunus (translated as “the dark dwelling” or “the place which should not be looked upon”) — the perfect spot for a dangerous object to have been hidden away.

Woolley’s reports were also surprisingly useful for capturing the mood of the setting.  The story takes place in the winter, apparently an unlovely time of year out at the site.

Woolley writes, “It is a melancholy prospect. The flat horizon is broken by a long ridge of wind-blown sand which emphasizes rather than relieves the desolation. All is desert now. A featureless expanse of grey mud and yellow sand.  During the ‘blue month’ of late December and early January the wind blowing out of the northwest desert brings so piercing a cold that the water in our clay drinking-jars is frozen solid.” [Ur Excavations, Vol ii, p. 2]

Wordy, maybe, but evocative.

Agatha Christie at Ur, 1930's. With Max (on left) and Sir Leonard Woolley (on right)

For hints as to what life was like on the dig and around the expedition house, fate has lent me an additional boon.  The late, great Agatha Christie herself visited the Ur expedition in the 1930’s.  She not only spent some time there (and met her future husband, Max Mallowan) but she also set one of her novels, Murder in Mesopotamia, in the expedition house.  The novel is full of lovely details, including a map of the layout of the expedition house and plenty of descriptions penned by someone who’d spent time there.

Between the Expedition Reports, Agatha Christie’s novel, a treasure trove of old photographs found online (like those included in this post), and my own not-infertile imagination, the generic planes of the final third of ABSENT are starting to pop up into something resembling a real place full of real people.

Yay, research!

Now, to finish the damn thing.

*cracks knuckles*

Garçon, another glass of wine, please!

I have returned from the south of France, refreshed, nourished (literally), and a half a size bigger than when a I left.  The trip was just as it should have been: super-relaxing and centered around leisurely 3 hour lunches with lots of wine.

Highlights included a cooking class in Nice, during which we managed to sear duck breasts and fry panisse (while drinking) without burning either ourselves or the food, wandering (full of zabaglione and slightly drunk) through the narrow, winding streets of vertiginous Apricale, Italy, and pretending to be brain-starved zombies while exploring the uber-creepy abandoned WWII Maginot Line bunker in a downpour atop the hill village of Saint Agnes.

We racked up a total of 6 Michelin stars (3 2-star restaurants), two of which rank among the best meals of my life (Chevre d’Or in Eze and Mirazur in Menton).  There was also lots of sleeping, hiking rocky paths round rugged, sun-drenched caps jutting into the Mediterranean, exploring castles, and poking (e.g. eating our way) through the offerings in the morning markets of Menton and Nice.

Given all this, it may surprise you (as it certainly surprised me) to learn I also edited over 150 pages of manuscript.  Apparently I work best when the sun is out and wine is on regular offer.  I think I’ve got about 2 more weeks of work to go and then ABSENT will (FINALLY) be ready to send to readers.  So, that’s awesome.

The one thing that did not happen, either while on vacation or in the 24 hours since I’ve been home, was any sort of preparation for my classes this week.  Sooooo….I’d better get to that!

Keep the wine chilled for me, I’ll be back soon 🙂

Writer’s Workspace: 3/28

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

What I’m working on: only 9 days remain until my self-imposed deadline to complete the second draft of my archaeological time travel novel, ABSENT.  I conferred this morning with my secretary and social planner, Mr. Ramses, and he and I decided the agenda for today was to lay some major pipe.  Word count needs to exceed 3K this afternoon or there’s no way I’m gonna make it.

Snippet from the screen: Black spots appeared in Nick’s vision, peppering his last glimpse of Emily’s pale, determined face before she disappeared from view.

“Be careful,” he whispered.

He and Alexa worked in silence, shoveling away snow, listening to the weight of it groaning up-slope.  He had to stop halfway through and throw up.  Alexa watched him with a deep crease set between her brows. 

“Hey, Detective Stoic.  You determined to kill yourself too?”

He shrugged.  Maybe he was.

In my mug: Tazo Zen green tea, ’cause, you know, antioxidants and stuff.

On the iTunes: I’ve got a little Bruce Springsteen “Thunder Road” action going on over here.  And It. Is. Sweet.

Out my window: Brooklyn’s bout of spring/winter cray-cray ain’t over by a long shot.  Yesterday it was 40.  Today?  65.  I know which I prefer, and global warming be damned.

Keeping me company:  the aforementioned secretary/social planner, Mr. Ramses, King of Cats, has abandoned me for his afternoon nap.  Hard to argue with the cute, though.

A little procrastination never hurt anyone:  links for you, my dears!  First up, some musing on the writing life from the awesome Laini Taylor.  Second, the next book in Stacia Kane’s SUPER FABULOUS Downside series is out!  If you haven’t devoured these great books yet, now’s an ideal time to start.  And, finally, for those of you who like being in all your characters’ heads at once…a podcast from Writing Excuses on the omniscient POV.  Enjoy 🙂

What great links do you have to share?  Post em’ in the comments, and while you’re at it, tell me what you’ve got cooking today.