Lottery Distraction (and Dogs Too)

When it comes to your fiction, have you ever wondered what you’d do if you won a $150 million lottery?

Here's a Japanese Chin...
Here's a Japanese Chin...

Today I stopped at the grocery store to buy yogurt. A teenager (pink rubberbands on her braces and, like, green eyes) with a dog carrier caught my eye. We got to talking about her pup, a Japanese Chin.

I was about to ask the pink-banded one if her dog also dances up on its hind legs, when a growing line of people visible over the girl’s shoulder distracted me further. Apparently, Powerball is up to $150+ million and people are buying tickets big-time. 

And here's Luna. What do you think?
And here's Luna. What do you think?

It took me an inordinately long time to decide on the yogurt. In the midst of all-important considerations — strawberry-flavored or vanilla? lowfat okay since there are no nonfats? what, now there’s yogurt with added fiber? — I couldn’t help wondering what I’d do if I won the lottery.

Just how much of a novelist do I think I am anyhow?

Would I live a well-invested life of bling and leisure, happily dabbling at writing, no pressure to publish, no need to see my words in print?

Or, would I self-publish because I’d have the money to hire excellent editors, copyeditors, designers, marketers and publicists?

Or, would I take 20 years to write one masterpiece, get it out there, and call it a day?

I like to think that I wouldn’t change when it comes to my fiction, but I don’t know that for sure.  Writing might be a totally different experience when you don’t have to worry about growing a career.

It’s that nasty word “career” that adds a level of urgency to the equation and has me wondering what my writing would turn into if I didn’t have to earn a living.

(P.S. Didn’t buy a Powerball ticket.)

Today’s Writing Task

I’m happy to announce that today’s writing task consists of printing out my manuscript. Yes, I finished my revision and now get to take off to the Oregon coast as I promised myself! I leave tomorrow. I can already feel myself decompressing…

Amendment: I finished this round of revisions, which was the big round, the I-haven’t-read-this-thing-in-years-yee-gads-what-a-mess round. Sitting before me is a 14-point memo-to-self that lists further revision possibilities. But only 14 points! That’s pretty good.

I’d been thinking about this project for eons but avoided going back to it in favor of writing new novels. But the notion of it — that it might be viable — bothered me. This was my “practice novel”, my first baby, and it’s finally grown up! Okay, maybe not grown up yet. It needs a few more rounds with me before I’ll send it off to the publishing battlefield.

Speaking of which, I wonder if my agent will like it…Stop! I must not obsess — but the thing is that this story is quite different from the one that led her to take me on as a client — STOP. When the time comes, I’ll wave bye-bye and be glad.

All this said, I have quite the to-do list (besides printing). Are you weird like me — before leaving town must you, like me, catch up on everything you’ve let slide?

1. Clean home — it’s a disaster area and might take all day.

2. Do laundry — I’ve been living in dirty sweats.

3. See to dog — she’s a mess too, and I don’t want her scooching her behind all over the lodge’s carpet. So anal expressing, bath, and nail clipping for her. (Crappy day for her.)

4. See to me — unlike Charlotte over at Charlotte’s Web, who’s secure enough to let her premature grays grow out, I’m not. I must see to my roots. I’ll let you in on a secret: I have one Cruella DeVille streak that’s kinda cool, but it must go.

5. Go to library — overdue books galore!

6. Drop off voting ballot at library — of course left this to the last minute.

7. See to finances/pay bills — don’t know where I am with my bank account and have a feeling the bottom line won’t be good.

Free-For-All Friday

(What is this? My very own meme, which could take the form of other Friday memes out there — random five or ‘fessing up — or non-Friday memes, or anything! Point being to have a little fun and get a little interactive. Feel free to snitch my logo at left and do your Friday thing!)


Today I’m ‘fessing up for my Friday. It’s about time I held myself accountable for flailing around with this revision. I’m taking far too long. This is ridiculous.

So, I hereby set my new goal in writing — hopefully publicizing it on this blog will keep me honest — along with the prize I’ll win for reaching this goal. Because prizes are good, and prizes help enforce arbitrary deadlines, right? Right (again hopefully).

Which brings up a question: Do you give yourself writing prizes? If so, what? I need ideas!

The goal: I have 12, count them, 12, chapters left to revise. So, I hereby promise to revise one chapter a day, including weekends, until I am done.

This doesn’t sound like an onerous goal, but one chapter each day can be tough. Some of the chapters are in horrible shape.

The prize: Thirteen or 14 days from now I’m going to the coast to a fancier lodge than usual for me — one that allows dogs, by the way. This lodge is offering a three-nights-for-the-price-of-two deal, which helps.

How’s that for a prize?

Admittedly, I’ll still be working. I’ll bring the printed copy of the manuscript with me and read through it for fine-tunes. Fun!

How much of a writing-geek am I that I’ll have loads, I mean, TONS, of fun reading through a manuscript at a fancy lodge on the beach with my dog as companion? Gotta love it. I’ll use any excuse for a writing retreat.

Have a great weekend. I’ll be working, but enthusiastically. In fact, the enthusiasm starts now with chapter 36 (woo-hoo).

Sidenote question: We writers need a patron saint of revisions. Who’s a good candidate for this position?

Fancy This, I’ve Learned a Few Things

Today I revised 11 pages for most of the day. I love the revision process, but this felt like an excessive amount of time to spend on prose that I had previously honed and polished and edited and revised and fine-tuned to “perfection.”

I decided to take a look at my first novel — formerly known as “the practice novel” — after I received the Dear John letter from my agent about Novel #2, the project she hadn’t succeeded in selling. Why not revise Novel #1? I asked myself. Maybe my agent will dig it…Worth a try, right?

I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown as a writer since I set this novel aside six years ago. I have a few skills under my belt now! In particular, four flaws are obvious that eluded me previously:

1. I refined the prose so well that it lacks verve, voice, life. Flat-city. The story features a first-person narrator, and I find myself adding words to strengthen her voice.

LESSON: There is such a thing as polishing the life out of my prose.

2. The plot flows, yet it also reads muddled – and for a very simple reason: Faulty scene and chapter breaks. I didn’t have a concept of this at the time, but scenes/chapters require arcs. Instead, I’ve got overly long chapters in which the significant plot points and character moments get lost.

LESSON: White space is a good thing.

3. This is a corollary to item #1: In my attempt to cut every excess word, I inadvertently created ambiguities. It’s not always obvious what’s going on — especially with character motivation — because I made the mistake of, for example, assuming readers would remember some little thing I’d mentioned many pages previously or connect the dots themselves. The key words for me are “seamless flow.”

LESSON: Repetition and explanation are allowed to keep the readers happily oriented.

4. I’ve also noted spots where I dilute suspense by revealing information sooner than necessary, usually through blah-di-blah dialogue. Apparently, I only understood suspense in theory, not in practice.

LESSON: Premature revelation is so anticlimactic.

For all I pared, there’s excess yet to cut; for all I developed and explained, there’s holes yet to be filled. Between the cutting and the adding, I predict I’ll end up with about the same word count. Funny how that works.

Never Mind “Write What You Know”

The write-what-you-know maxim never appealed to me. I’m a student at heart. I like research.

So, when an Irish friend blew through town a few weeks back, I eagerly prepared myself to take full advantage of his good nature. My list of questions wasn’t exhaustive, just a few odds and ends from the first draft. (In-depth research will require a trip.) For example, do four-year-olds go to nursery school, pre-school, any school at all? Answer: Yes, and it’s called “junior infants.”

Trousers or pants? Well, since “pants” equals underwear, best beware. However, I can use the following phrase in dialogue: “complete pants,” which means “rubbish.” Over pints, I asked my friend about hot plates for camping and graffiti among other things. Poor guy, at one point I even pulled out my novel journal to quote his Irish-ness verbatim.

I’ll be the first to admit that research complicates the process. Why can’t I set a story in good old Portland, Oregon? At least then I wouldn’t have to contend with the lousy exchange rate…

Here’s an example of an actual research list, most of which relates to things Irish.

Fourth Draft Research (May ’06 Trip)

  • In small jurisdictions, are there detective guards plus regular (uniformed) guards? What’s the internal lingo for differentiating them? (page 6)
  • For civilians: do they say “guard” or “officer” or “police” etc? (page 6)(page 160)(page 175/6)(page 181)(page 297)
  • When CA seat belt law into effect? (page 32)
  • Called “Jane Does” in Ireland? (page 35)(page iii-11)
  • Check smoking laws vs. date of story (page 36)(page 95)
  • Women’s shelters in Ennis? (page 42)
  • Moonstone significance research (page 70)
  • Is “bedsit” really a word? (page 158)
  • Can drink outside? Festival, booths, etc? (page 183)
  • DPP – prosecutor. What called in civilian terms? (page 184)
  • What time pubs close generally? (page 256)
  • Alcohol withdrawal symptoms (page 267)
  • Can you borrow against a house in Ireland? (page 267)
  • What do nurses wear? (page 270)
  • How phone calls handled on general wards? (page 311)
  • Public defenders used like in US? (page 324)
  • Visitors allowed into interview rooms when arrested? (page 324)
  • Call for lawyers when get arrested? (page 325)
  • State Pathologist has a van? (page 377)
  • False arrest—conditions of arrest; conditions to let go; how long can hold etc. Allowed visitors? (page 390)
  • Get a public defender automatically like in the States? (page 392)
  • Does peat go gray and powdery like coals? (page iii-23)
  • Check robins and wheatears in September. (page iii-70)