Thursday, May 31, 2007


That's one HUGE thank-you to Chris Knight, my reader. Every author deserves a reader like Chris—he's interested in the story and can't wait until I finish the next chapter. "Is your next chapter done yet?" Is a wonderfully encouraging thing to hear, and his feedback is good. I will be using it as a guide when I start to revising. Thank you, Chris.

Error #3: Not Having Goals and Deadlines

We had a loud, extended thunderstorm on Wednesday the 15th, which reminded me that I hadn't backed up anything since... February. So I worried through the storm, and the next day I went out and picked up a hundred CDs, and backed up all the important stuff. I was a little curious as to how I had progressed since my last backup, so I stuck my last update CD (February 2) into the computer, and looked at how many words I had written in the last three and a half months.

8,000. I'd gotten 8,000 words done on my novel since February.

8,000 is nothing. Three and a half months averaging 2,000 words a month. A saleable novel is somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 words. My plan is to have this book finished by November so I can go to the World Fantasy Con (less than two hours from where I live) this year and pitch it. I'll need to have the first draft done by October 1 at the latest so I can have a month to revise it before I go to WFC.

I have four months to get between 35,000 and 40,000 words written. At 2,000 words a month, that just wasn't going to happen. I mean, I had my plan, but I hadn't been keeping an eye on my progress toward that goal.

So for the last three weeks, the goal has been a thousand words done every day that I devote to writing (which is to say three days a week). It hasn't been easy--I've really had to sweat. And I haven't always made trhe daily goal. But more often than not I have, and the progress is wonderful. Since I put myself on the daily goals, the book has grown from 36,000 words to 41,500: five and a half thousand words in two weeks. At this pace, I will finish by the end of September and still have time to revise it.

Lesson learned. I can't just set a deadline for a novel the way I can with shorter works. I have to make sure have set shorter-term goals to make sure I'm getting everything done in proper time.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I had to stop about every paragraph and decide whether I agree with the conclusion presented. I’m currently on page 26 (out of the 200 page Semiotics: The Basics, by Daniel Chandler) , and it has been a long time since I’ve read any sort of literary theory. I am finding the intellectual challenge quite interesting, and although I haven’t discovered anything to directly influence my writing yet. Still, nothing learned is wasted.

I will admit that I picked up Semiotics for two reasons, one much more significant than the other. The first is Umberto Eco. Eco’s novels are interesting and different enough from the mainstream that I’m interested in his literary theories. The second is Mark Danielewski. House of Leaves was described as a semiotic ghost story in a review, and I love House of Leaves.

Anyway, it’s moderately thick going, and I seem to disagree with seminal semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure’s conclusion that signs and meaning are primarily negative in nature, that the concept of tree is composed of dozens of elements such as “Not a bush”. At least partially because defining by negative is a laborious process. To think of a tree as “not a bush, not grass, not a car, not a house, not a book, not a person, not an animal, not a rock, not a road, not a mountain, not a star, not darkness, not light, not water, not a sound, not an act” is simply too cumbersome a definition for any mental process to go through every time we think ‘tree’. Yes, there must be differentiation–a tree is not a bush because a bush is shorter than a tree–but a tree is still a tall, woody stem with branches and leaves that is neither a vine nor a bush. And imagine if we had to define both of the objects in that last definition in the negative. We’d be here all night just listing the things the vine isn’t, and the bush isn’t.

Of course, we don’t think of definitions when we think of trees. Most of us either think of a word or an abstract symbol of a tree, rather than a specific tree. Really. Picture a tree–what’s the first image that comes to your mind? Is it a tree you have known, or is it something like a child’s drawing, a conceptual tree? This is where semiotics comes from–the human mind seems to work better with symbols, possibly for ease of storage, rather than

We also react very well to signs. Think of any cartoon character: Do they really look human? With human-like proportions, a face like someone you know? Not really. I mean, they have two arms and a head, but if you ever saw someone with a head like a paper bag like Bart Simpson, they would appear to be strange and grotesque. But we understand Bart Simpson as not a person, but a symbol representing a person. And this, apparently, is what semiotics are about–how the human mind understands and interprets signs.

Language is one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Few other species have developed something as finely detailed and versatile as language, ands yet all human cultures seem to have it. Now that there is a tribe of chimps that make and travel with spears, humanity cannot be distinguished as the unique tool-using animal. We are, however, the creature with the most complex communication. So what better way to understand humans than through the study of our greatest achievement (according to Madeline L’Engle)?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

“I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” Attributed to Thomas Jefferson

I’ve been fencing for more than eleven years, and I’m not bad. I’m not a ‘ranked’ fencer because competitions make me crazy. Really. Very crazy. Anyway, I’ve gotten a lot of excellent advice from fencers over the years, especially the meistro of the Pacific Fencing Club, Harold Hayes. Specifically, I need to be in a position to take advantage of the other fencer’s errors. If the other fencer is good, my opportunity to make a touch may only last some fractions of a second. I need to be relaxed and in a good position to take advantage of it. If I am tense, I’m ‘leaning’ in one direction, expecting something specific. If I don’t get it, I have switch gears, and that takes time. If I am relaxed, I can react to a wider range of possibilities.

In the same way, I have to be prepared for writing opportunities. I have to be on both my feet, and balanced, to be ready for a window of opportunity. It’s lucky when one of those opportunities arise, but my responsibility is to react in a timely and appropriate manner in order to see that window, extend my blade, and lunge.

If I have done everything right, touché!