Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Micro Maunscript

I finally got around to making a Shrunken Manuscript as invented by Darcy Pattison and recommended by Sarah Miller.

I used 8-point Arabic Typesetting which shrunk my 61,000 word manuscript to 52 pages. I know I’m supposed to shrink it to 30 pages, and 52 > 30, but it was the best I could do.

I assigned each major character a color and made a big colored square around every scene involving that character. Obviously, some scenes have more than one color. I shouldn't have used highlighters because:
1. The yellow and the green are too similar. (Ruth, if you’re reading this, I know you’re feeling my pain.)
2. I didn’t have enough colors.
3. After I’d used all the colors I realized I’d forgotten to give my protagonist a color. How could that happen? Poor Lia ended up with purple colored pencil which doesn’t show up in the photos.

I always prefer a quantitative approach to a qualitative one, so I devised a tension ranking scheme for scribbling on the micro manuscript.
This allowed me to track the emotional dynamics of each scene. For example, as the squirminess increased, I could make the horizontal lines closer together before I resorted to vertical lines. I could visualize the ebb and flow of tension.

At this point Sarah Miller suggests vacuuming. This I did, with enthusiasm. I even moved the furniture which resulted in a wide open space to display my 52 pages.

I spread out my manuscript and analyzed it. What did I learn?
1. Chapters 2-3 need work.
2. Chapters 6-7 sag a bit.
3. Chapters 19-25 could use tightening.

Then I counted pages with some type of marking.
Stripes (horizontal lines) – 100% of the pages
Checks (horizontal + vertical) – 15% of the pages
Plaid (horizontal + vertical + diagonal) – 8% of the pages

Next time, I’ll leave the chapter numbering in 12-point, so it will be easier to locate problems when the manuscript is spread on the floor.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Books of the Year

Here are some stats from my 2008 book list:
1. I read only 53 books. (2008 was a tough year.)
2. I didn't read, or at least record, any pictures books.
3. I gave 19 books 4 stars, but only 4 books received 5 stars.
The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Last Night of Hanukkah

Photo by Z.F. Burton
The little row of lights behind the menorah is the reflection in the window.

Overheard #37

"If the Hanukkah miracle happened today, my car would get 300 miles per gallon."


Photo by Z.F. Burton

The world outside is mostly gray and brown. The snow is melting. I thought about searching my files for a bright flower picture from last summer, but I decided to go for photographic realism.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

In Vino Veritas

In wine is truth, or at least in wine is calculus.

Johannes Kepler* helped invent calculus while calculating the volume of wine kegs. In 1612, wine came in kegs, not 750 ml bottles, and Kepler was concerned because the method used to estimate the volume of these kegs was inaccurate.

The volume of a cylinder is simply the area of the base times the height. (V = πrrh)** This formula can’t be used to determine the volume of a keg because of the bulgy parts on the sides. Kepler imagined slicing the kegs into infinitely thin sections. He calculated the volumes of the sections and added them up. Not only did he get a pretty good answer, he devised the precursor to taking an integral.

This story and many others about the history of mathematics can be found in Zero: the biography of a dangerous idea by Charles Seife. (Penguin Books, 2000)

*In case you think Kepler was just an old sot, he also figured out that the planets move in elliptical paths.

** I couldn't make the "r squared" notation with a superscript 2 in Blogger.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Overheard #36

"If you teach a teenager to drive, you’ll learn a lot about yourself."

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

My family celebrates a bit of Christmas and Hanukkah. We light a menorah and we put up a Christmas tree. The presents are reserved for Christmas morning.

Here it is 6:03 AM and the boys are still asnooze in their beds. They must be growing up. I recall past years when my husband and I were awakened by serenades of trumpets and guitars in the very wee hours.

I have much to be thankful for: my wonderful family, my cherished friends. This year I have been haunted more than usual by ghosts of Christmas pasts, but that too is part of living.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Going Green for Christmas?

This morning on NPR, I heard that Black and Decker is going green. They developed a Heat Leak Detector. Apparently this device will detect small cracks and crannies in houses where heat escapes.

I could use this tool to great advantage. Imagine a scene where I demonstrate to the burly repairman why I think heat is escaping from a certain spot in this house. "See, you point the ray gun at the wall, and if the light turns red, there's a leak."

I wonder if The Detector could be used to find the place where mice enter our house. Yes, 'tis the season for small rodent visitors. My husband catches them in live traps, then lets them go in the woods. He leaves a muffin for their first meal away from home.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

We have a wind chill of -1º degree. When I lived in Madison, WI, that would have seemed like a balmy winter day, but times change, and I've become wimpier.

I hope to finish off the last of the holiday flurries and spend the rest of the week ... r e l a x i n g.

And doing a read through of my WIP.
And shrinking it to micro-print and marking the exciting parts.
And fixing whatever problems I encounter in the above two steps.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah

And Happy Solstice too.
I'll take another picture on day 8 and try using the flash.


Photo by Z.F. Burton

We found this decorated branch while walking in the woods. You can see us reflected in the ornament.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Correction on Snow Day

Yesterday I said it never snows in Southern California. Well, it does snow in the mountains, and sometimes in the foothills where my brother lives. He had a ton of snow with 40 mph winds that blew the snow into the vents in his attic. The snow then melted and water ran down through the ceilings.

They don't have much snow removal equipment in LA County, so my brother had to spend the night in a motel because he couldn't get home from work. His wife missed four days of work because the roads were impassible.

All the shoveling I did yesterday doesn't seem so bad now.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Fa La La La La

I just learned the origin of Fa La La La La in Deck the Halls. The song began as a tavern song with some off-color words and phrases. When it was performed for the king, singers had to delete those parts, so they substituted Fa La La La La. Wasn't that a dainty song to sing before the king!

(Like the king didn't know those words already.)

Snow Day!

A winter storm has closed the schools. We are celebrating. I try to get as much fun out of snow days as I can because I never had one as a kid. Snow doesn't fall in Southern California, and there was never an occasion when the schools had to close.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Coin a Phrase

Last night, I brought the exercise to Write Night. Here's what we did.

1. Make a list of 10-15 things that can be detected with one of the five senses. (At first I planned to list objects, then I remembered expressions like, cool, sweet, hottie and twitter.)

2. Next to each item in your list, write what it could mean. Remember you’re making up a new phrase, so don’t use standard connotations.

3. Read the lists out loud. Feel free to borrow ideas from others. Feel free to change the meanings.

4. Pick an expression and consider what kind of person would use that expression. Write a short description of that character. Repeat with another expression and another character. Continue for ten minutes. Read them aloud.

5. Write a scene that puts two or more characters in conflict. They can be your characters or those invented by others. Each character must use his or her expression in the scene. Remember to develop the voices of your characters.

6. Write a scene in which a character misunderstands the meaning of one of our new expressions. Focus on the conflict or tension that ensues. Concentrate on voice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Since Time Began

I am reading Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife. I'll review it when I finish, but last night I encountered a factoid that I couldn't wait to share.

Most early number systems were base-5, base-10 or occasionally base-20 because they were handy. The early Babylonians used base-60! That means if a Babylonian wanted to count on his fingers, he needed the help of two friends, and none of them could wear shoes.

I have been wondering for a long time why time is base-60. I remember, as a kid, asking my dad why hours and minutes were divided into 60 not 100 parts. He didn't know. He told me people had tried to institute a time system based on 100, but it didn't catch on. Now I know why there are 60 minutes in an hour. We can blame the Babylonians.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Miniature Horse

Today when I was at the pet store buying crickets for our gecko, three women came in leading a miniature horse. I got to pet him. He was very sweet, sort of like a big friendly dog that didn't drool. His name is Bruiser, and he is being trained as a service horse for women and children who have been abused.

The women and Bruiser are from Sierra Rose Farms. You can see an enlarged picture of the little horses here.

Overheard #35

"Air horns stopped being fun last summer."

Monday, December 15, 2008

First Paragraph Woes

If you read this blog last week, you saw me complain about my woefully inadequate first paragraph. Then I had my own brainstorming/hair pulling contest to try to improve my paragraph. More woe - I gave up too easily.

Today, Nathan Bransford explains what is great about the six paragraphs that made the finals. Then - here's the woe part - he describes the most common losing paragraphs. Mine falls securely in class #2. Yep, I have a lot of details and too much setting. My shocking sentence is only eyebrow raising. Woe is me!

I find it very easy to write an intriguing first paragraph for novel ideas that are merely shadows and moonlight in my head. Once the novel solidifies, the first paragraph dies a dull death.

Back to the drawing board.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Overheard #34

"This is something you will come to regret, dear brother."


Photo by Z.F. Burton

Remember how much color there was in June?

(If you click on the picture, it will enlarge. The black dots near the center of the flower are ants.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Tilting at Windmills

Last night I watched Man of La Mancha. I highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to peddle creativity in a time of economic free fall.

When I was a freshman, my high school performed this musical. I didn't get it - at all. Perhaps the appreciation of idealism requires a background of cynicism.

Friday, December 12, 2008


City Forester

In the town where my mom used to live, there is a government official with this title. He or she oversees the trimming of trees that belong to the city.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Contest

I decided to run my own first paragraph contest. I was the only person to enter and the only judge. I wrote 5 more versions of my first paragraph. I'll spare you the paragraphs, but here are the critiques:

My current first paragraph: Sets the scene. Feels spooky. No hook.
Try #2: Gag.
Try #3: Pretentious.
Try #4: The last sentence might make a good first sentence.
Try #5: Nothing special.
Try #6: Small changes make all the difference.

First Paragraph Contest

I did not enter Nathan Bransford's contest for first paragraphs for a variety of reasons. Right at the top were:
1. I'm not fond of contests.
2. My first paragraph isn't ready.

You can read the finalists here. There is much to learn. Now I'm back to revising. Maybe I'll bring a couple versions of my first paragraph to the next critique group.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thursday Summary

On the holidays:
Nothing dampens the holiday spirit like trying to figure out the bells and whistles in the mail merge function of Microsoft Word. That said, the holiday cards are now addressed – most of them legibly.

On winter:
I left California almost 30 years ago. Ice and snow have lost their novelty. But, in just 10 days, we’ll reach the shortest day of the year. Then, little by little, each day will gain daylight. Hurray!

On writing:
Draft 7 is nearly finished. Chapters 1-23 and 29-32 have been revised. I cut a lot, and I’m not sure what's left. One way to find out.

On reading:
I just finished Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. Wonderful! The wait for its sequel (Forge) will seem soooooo long.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tangent to the Curve

My husband and I grew up in costal towns in Southern California where picturesque roads wind around the hills above the ocean. When we moved to Michigan, we thought nothing of buying a house located on a curve. We neglected to consider snow and ice.

Even though we live in a quiet subdivision where snowplows seldom venture, people tend to drive too fast, and when they skid, their trajectory intersects with our mailbox. Last Friday, a car skated around the corner, hopped the curb, leaped the sidewalk and landed on our front lawn. Fortunately, our mailbox lived to fight another day.

Lori, here’s a link for tangent.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saving the Publishing Industry One Book At a Time

Maybe this started with a blog entry by Moonrat in which she suggested that the publishing industry would be in better shape if we'd all buy a book.

Then it became a facebook group called Buy a Book and Save the World. I joined and promised to buy a book.

Then Karen Dionne started this cool blog where people can list the books they've bought recently. We're trying to get to a million.

I bought 3 books today so I could do my part AND have something to enjoy over the holidays.

Still There at 9:00

Photo by me.

Sleeping In

Photo by Z.F. Burton (out the back window at 8:00 this morning)

Meager Blog Week

This week, I managed to post a couple of pictures and fewer than 50 words. Maybe I should take up Haiku or Twittering.

I have been revising, though. My WIP has been sliced and diced, folded, spindled and mutilated so many times, there is no telling what it will look like when I'm done. The only way to find out is to finish the darn thing. (A lot of restraint was required to type darn.)

Later this morning, my critique group meets. They are my best pals and I can't wait to see them. I'll come back energized and ready to mangle my WIP. We meet at a bookstore so I'll have the opportunity to Buy a Book and Save the World.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


If my characters don't stop nodding and shrugging, I'm going to rename them Fidget, Squirm and Twitch.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Photo by me. (from the front steps, before the sun was all the way up)

Enough to shovel? -- yes
Enough for a snow day? -- no
Enough to ski on? -- maybe soon.