Thursday, March 17, 2005

No Writing Today

I've been concentrating on the novel for quite a while now, and today, with the beginning of the reviewer cycle, I've had a chance to do something different. For example, I treated the back lawn for fire ants.

But I finally had time to do something that's been on my list for quite a while.

My daughter Debra bought me a car stereo for Christmas. The previous unit had been damaged beyond repair by a failed attempted theft on one of my trips to Phoenix (a science fiction convention). The thief ripped off the face plate, but wasn't able to extract the unit in the few minutes I was in the store.

So finally, I found the right wiring harness and puzzled out the process. For now, until the next thief, I have a source of music and digital time in the Jeep.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Printing Reviewer Copies

Well, now that the initial cleanup is done on the novel, I now have to hand a copy to several trusted reviewers. They will read it and mark up the stuff I missed. Over the years, the review copy style has changed.

When a writer (in my case) thinks of a manuscript, it's in standard manuscript format. Unbound, Courier 12, double-spaced, one side of the paper. Underlined where I expect italic in the finished text. But after handing a few copies like this to people, I discovered that only writers and editors expect this. Reading a novel from individual sheets out of a box was difficult for my reviewers.

I tried to explain why the publishing industry uses manuscript format to the reviewers, but that didn't really help. They weren't in the publishing industry. They were friends helping me out. So I changed.

Using a custom macro, I've developed a way to rapidly convert the manuscript from standard form into an alternate for reviewers. Double column text, times font, single-spaced, italics instead of unerlined. It shrinks a 500 page manuscript down into 100 pages. Then I punch and comb-bind the result. The result is a lot like magazine text, and a lot easier for my reviewers to handle. I also print a table of contents, so that it's easier to match up the returned review copy changes with the text still in manuscript format.

A few times, on the road, I had Kinko's produce the copies, but this time, with my nice new HP printer I got for Christmas, I'm doing the job myself. It's a little more work than Kinko's, but it's probably faster to do at home -- and a lot cheaper.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Listening to Vikki

One of the steps to my manuscript clean up process, is listening to it. With some of my earlier works, I had spoken it out loud, but a novel this size takes ten hours, at a normal pace. Instead, for several years now, I've converted the text to a spoken file using the text-to-speech software built into the Mac. I then play the spoken version, while following along in the manuscript, fixing things as I go.

I've used a variety of software tools to manage the conversion process. In the earlier days of Mac system 8 and 9, there was a size limit of 32 thousand characters that could be converted at one time. I wrote scripts to chop up the text into pieces and then convert each piece.

Lately, I've been using 'books2burn' software by Matthew Weinstein. The 'book burning' is an analogy to CD song ripping and burning. The software does a good job of detecting chapters and splitting the text. I converted the novel into fifty AIFF files with books2burn, and then imported them into iTunes. I convert the AIFF to mp3 files for size reasons, and then delete the 1.5GB of AIFF files. iTunes makes a nice orderly player, with a quick pause button when I detect an error that I have to fix.

I use the Vikki built-in voice, one of the better ones. The text-to-speech conversion is usable, although there are quirks. For example, 'Okay' comes out 'kay', and frequently hypenated words are spelled out, rather than spoken.

Still, the end result is usable. In spite of the fact that writing and reading is a highly visual activity, deep in it's roots, text is just codified speech, and so many textual errors are just invisible to my eyes.

But when the sentence is spoken, some problems jump right out at me. It's a time consuming process to listen to Vikki for hours on end, but it's worth it.

Monday, March 14, 2005

That Annoying First Chapter

One of the things I have to revisit several times is the first few pages of the book. My last few novels have all started out in the here and now, with ordinary people in ordinary lives, but by the end of the tale, the protagonist has become powerful, or famous -- an inventor, an explorer, or a ruler. I want the development to be incremental and progress easily from the mundane to the extraordinary. I want to start out normal, and build the strange.

But the demands of marketting are different from the demands of storytelling. Without a killer hook in that first chapter, first paragraph, even the first few words, people won't buy the book. And by 'people', I include the editor or agent who holds the power of life and death over the work.

I wonder if this is an artifact of our current culture? Is the hook, so demanded by our fast-paced life with its thousands of demands on our attention, something universal? Will this feature of modern publishing change in fifty years? Will future readers find the predictable and artifical hook in the first sentence a laughable affection of a harried culture?

It doesn't matter today. Today, I have to work on that sentence. Let's see. How can I add a little danger and mystery here, before anything happens? Hmm. 'Sharp' is a nice word. Let's use it.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Clean up time

I'm deep in the process of turning a rough first draft of the new novel "Falling Bakward" into a cleaner version suitable for other eyes. It was very discouraging yesterday, as I waded through the first two chapters and found so many horrible errors. But today, it was much smoother going. I find that when my first draft is written slowly, it also is rougher, and I had troubles when I'd started this project.

It's nothing I can't fix, but it's also much nicer to write an apt paragraph the first time. And speaking of 'it's', I made a horrible blunder with search and replace, and collapsed 170 instances of 'it's' or 'its' into 'its'. What a mind-numbing exercise to step through the novel, fixing each and every one of them!

The advantage of this part of the writing process is that I get to read the whole novel through, at a normal pace. It's not something I get to do in the early stages. You know how you love to read and re-read a favorite book? Well, whichever novel I'm working on is my favorite one. Now I get to enjoy it.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Falling Bak-ward has reached First Draft

Time to celebrate. Just a few minutes ago, I wrote THE END on the first draft of my newest novel "Falling Bak-ward". This is the completion of step two in my personal writing process. I had written an outline. Lately they are huge. It was a 23,000 word outline for an 86,000 word novel.

Now comes the clean-up process. Lots of hours checking grammar and spelling. Then I'll read it through for smoothness. Some time in that process, I'll convert it to a spoken version and play it back through my iPod.

Then I'll hand a limited set of copies to select first-readers. (You already know who you are.) When their suggestions and markups come back, then I'll make a version suitable for an editor or agent to look at. That will include writing a five-page synopsis, since editors like 'sample-chapter and synopsis' submissions.

My writing process works pretty well, at least up until that point. It's the selling process that needs a lot of work.