Saturday, March 29, 2014

More Amaryllis

We liked our last amaryllis so much that I bought a set of three bulbs when the orange one faded. The instructions said if I planted the bulbs together in a twelve-inch pot, they would produce a “tapestry of color.” That’s not going to happen. They’re blooming one at a time, which gives us a longer time with flowers – just no tapestry. The first one to open was a variegated raspberry and white. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Overheard #277

“If you believe in n-dimensional space, you don’t think so much about time.”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Creativity vs. Craft

At a recent book event, my husband asked the author which part of her writing process was creativity and which part was craft. The poor woman looked startled then said the two were so intertwined that they could not be separated. 

In science, creativity and craft are more easily distinguishable. The creative parts involve identifying interesting problems and figuring out which questions to ask so that a correct answer can be found. Craft comes into play when executing the experiment. Years of practice are often required to produce interpretable results. 

For me, writing is a mixture of creativity and craft. Figuring out what story to write, deducing the best way to tell it, and asking probing questions about my characters and their quests are all creative endeavors. The process of getting the story down for the first time is mostly unbridled creativity. Revision, however, is not exclusively craft. Seemingly, years of practice are often required to produce a clearly written manuscript. But a manuscript that is merely technically adept will not sell. Readers are looking for heart in a novel, characters they can identify with, and situations that are both real and unique. Breathing life into the novel is the creative part of revisions.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

First Signs of Spring

I've spotted a few red-winged blackbirds, the chipmunks have been sunning themselves on the front steps, and the snow has started to melt. Today, my husband noticed green shoots in the backyard. Last fall I planted bulbs. In an attempt to thwart our abundant burrowing creatures, I covered most of the bulbs with hardware cloth. Apparently my strategy worked because the ipheion were sprouting through the hardware cloth. Today, although the temperature is 21oF and much of the yard is still under snow, I started gardening. I removed all of hardware cloth I could find. (Some is still buried under snow.) The ipheion are coming up like gangbusters, the anemones have pink shoots, and the chionodoxa are sprouting. I saw no signs yet of the scilla or the bluebells, but the snowdrops are blooming.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Overheard #276

“It probably works in a way that my hand gestures are approximating.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

Overheard #275

"I have to exude some personality – as opposed to what I usually do."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I was in San Diego a couple weeks ago.
Those are raindrops, in case you've forgotten what they look like. 
Bird of paradise plants grow like weeds in Southern CA.
through a rain-spotted window
the view out my window today

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mark Your Calendars

The lives of most characters revolve around the school/work week or the seasons – depending on the genre. I like to use a calendar as a revision tool. I draw a grid and label it with the days of the week and the names of the months, scaling it to the time span of my novel. I note major plot events on the appropriate spaces. 

In my current project, timing is particularly important because my protagonist is a potter. My initial estimates of the time required to throw, dry, fire, glaze and re-fire pottery were too short. After I adjusted the pottery schedule, I noticed other time-related issues. Some events happened too quickly, while others were unrealistically delayed. 

A calendar provides a simplified view of a novel on a single page. I can trace the narrative arc without getting bogged down in details. A calendar is also a useful tool for tracking pacing. I can easily see how many events happen on a given day and how much time elapses between events. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Overheard #274

"There was cheese in my sandwich, but I chewed right through it."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Recalcitrant Chapters

Some chapters fight back. They induce procrastination, or stall repeatedly. Some chapters insist on being boring, or they steer the novel off course. Some chapters get worse with every revision. 

It happens to everyone, and the reasons are plentiful.
  • Nothing is happening in the chapter.
  • Too much is happening in the chapter.        
  • The subject is painful for the writer or close to a difficult memory.
  • The chapter actually belongs in another book.
  • The writer doesn’t yet understand what the chapter is supposed to achieve. 
My solution is adapted from a technique we used in the lab when experiments didn’t work. 

Figure out three ways to fix it, and try them all. 
  • Brainstorm until you come up with three completely different approaches to the chapter.
  • Outline all of them. (Forget the Roman numerals and indentations. Simply make a list of events and note character emotions and changes.)
  • Compare the pros and cons of each approach within the milieu of the novel.
  • Write the one you like best.
  • If it still doesn’t work, try another approach you’ve outlined. 
 This is my world right now. Welcome to Chapter 11.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Different View of Rejection

We’re in San Diego so my husband can attend an editorial meeting for a scientific journal. We met another editor in the lobby of the hotel. This man looks just like Santa Claus, except that he doesn’t always wear red. He’s also smart and funny like I imagine Santa would be. 

We can, perhaps, all agree that many manuscripts are submitted before they’re ready, and part of the job of any editor is to reject submissions.  This morning, Santa told us that at a previous meeting, he was accused of being mean because he’d rejected the largest percentage of submissions of all the editors.

Rejection is difficult for everyone – even Santa.