Writing: Novel Progress

“Novel Progress” here means I have an update on the progress of my novel, not that making progress is novel in itself… English is silly, isn’t it?

I’m over 43,000 words into my rewrite of my first novella. There’s still a lot of story to go, and I’m impressed that I’ve got so much, considering I’m 62% of the way through the printed first draft, and that draft was just over 50k. (I’m truly rewriting it, and not just retyping it. 62% of 50k would be just 31k, so…)

My writing isn’t as steady as I’d hoped: I’ve had many real-life interruptions and minor crises to resolve. I also take abundant breaks to ensure that I don’t inflame my arms from doing too much of any one activity, having just finished physical therapy for an arm injury recently.

The breaks are unexpectedly beneficial, because the time away from the writing allows me to rethink some of the motivations of the characters. There have been several nights and mornings when I’ve sat up in bed, re-evaluating how some powerful beings came to power, and how they maintain it. There’s another story there, one that I reveal partially in the climax of the first draft. While it should not be fully revealed in this book – I’m keeping the focus on the central character and how she is affected by power struggles from her point of view – refinements of these motivations have already contributed heavily to the wording of the re-write.

I hope to use breaks to decide whether or not the lead character will realize why no one else remembers the things she is talking about from earth. Not even really basic things. There’s a reason, and it was hinted at, but she missed the hint at the time, and hasn’t revisited it. Her understanding of [the cause] won’t change the arc of the story, but it may make things easier for a friend of hers, and that may be worth doing before the story ends…

Summary: I want to complete this draft zealously, and then move into continuity editing and additional story refinements. I know editing is complex, and I’m unsure how long it will really take. I am enjoying the process, and feel I am improving on my old draft. I’m glad I am making the time and space to do this!

Writing: About Travel

Clouds offer a gorgeous range of landscape-like forms…

Having been unable to travel for so long due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have a wicked case of wanderlust.

Some of my wanderlust is just caused by escapism: I’m dealing with lots of dull obligations, so the appeal of being AWAY is as alluring as the idea of specific places I may enjoy! I know myself well enough to recognize this, and am evaluating my fantasies carefully, to see what they are REALLY about.

As part of thinking about why I travel, I’ve been reading my writing about past trips, from my first, solo, trans-Pacific trip (to Japan) to my more recent writing about my taxing, trans-Atlantic business travel, where I was able to convey both the hardships AND the glamour.

That first solo trip was an amazing experience, but writing about it while I was sick with a persistent case of bronchitis skewed my reporting. Writing to friends who didn’t share my interests in art narrowed it further. I managed to convey the difficulties well, but not the gorgeousness of misty paths leading to ancient shrines in wet, shady forests, or the beauty of clouds clinging to mountain tops, or the satisfaction of soaking in deeply sulfurous waters… While my friends (fairly) interpreted my writing as disappointment, and I did describe negative experiences and states of mind, I still enjoy memories from that trip: of oversized leaves that fell so noisily while I sat in a forest, lush carpets of moss in a chess-board-like temple garden with stone lanterns as chess pieces, the unexpected appeal of my German hiking companion as he boarded his departing train, the hot lemon drink that warmed me when I was rain-drenched, the bliss of soaking up to my neck in deep hostel bathtubs that I didn’t describe…

The frustrations of the noisy crowds and the jostling students are also vivid, but are less important now: that wasn’t my only trip to Japan, that wasn’t my only visit to those sites in Kyoto, and my subsequent experiences at popular tourist sites mean I understand the limits of what they can and can’t offer me in a way I didn’t at the time.

That trip helped me see and accept what popular mass tourism is. I accept that there are lists of “must-see” destinations (which I don’t actually have to see), and that some of those destinations may be worthwhile if I am willing to accept the consequences of their popularity. (This has also led to my intentional photo series of tourists taking photos at crowded sites, which I enjoy making, and which are only possible due to the nature of such sites.) Accepting this helps me make more informed choices about opting-in AND opting-out. I freely do both.

*

My business travel was also highly educational. Being overseas as part of an initial team that dispersed at the end of the business day/week, leaving me unexpectedly alone in a new place, I had to orient myself, and then decided to use my newfound knowledge to orient others. I recognized and appreciated the collegiality of someone with more experience there, and ensured I repaid that collegiality when our project changed sites, and that I followed his example in general. I knew what kinds of social and logistical support I had wanted, and I provided that to those who followed.

I gave tours, and took newcomers to my favorite spots if they shared my interests; I wrote a brief visitors guide; I recommended restaurants, dishes, beer, museums, hotels; I met up for meals with colleagues who didn’t want to dine alone; I translated; I learned train lines, bought tickets, and guided colleagues to work, and in doing do, expanded the practical hotel range for a suburban office with a limited pool of hotels, so my colleagues could spend time in a world-class city rather than sit in a remote, rural hotel at night; I took colleagues on field trips… That felt GREAT! I felt useful, I made things easier, I enjoyed good company, I had good fun.

With multi-country business trips that spanned several weekends, I had a chance to learn about different approaches to exploring: about how to use hotels (the sort that are too cramped to linger in, and the sort that are a pleasure and destination of their own); how to pace myself based on my energy levels, moods, and the weather; how to go away for a weekend; and how to stay put.

Both on business and on my vacations, I learned about the complexity of traveling with others. Of how the wrong traveling companions complicate a trip, and the right ones make my experience of a destination better than I could have managed on my own. This last point is the best lesson: I do have a few friends whose company is great ON THE MOVE, and I should experience places with them more often!

I’ll now return to my daydreams (and online research and list-making) of safe and enjoyable travel, with expectations well grounded by my actual travel experiences…

Book: Another Day of Novel Editing

I crossed 28,000 words of the re-write/editing project!

I think it’s going well. I’m excited about some events that take place in the story: it really does build up to a proper climax or two.

During this rewrite, I’m seeing that my chapter breaks aren’t well placed within the story. I’m sure I can do better! I should also examine the number of subsections I have, which mark changes of scene. I don’t know if they should be chapters or not, but I do think it is useful to announce location/place/participant changes.

There is a crisis/subplot that feels really relevant to the main character, but I’m unsure whether it plays out at the right time within the story. I’ll have to examine it again. It may be possible for it to occur at the same time, but be explained and examined by the characters later in the story…

There are some nouns that I’m renaming from the first draft as I write, and I’m trying to rename them consistently throughout the book. (Since the book is being re-entered, I can’t just do some sort of global search and replace yet.) This is the sort of thing that I was diagramming in a mind mapping program earlier this week, but a simple table or set of tables listing characters and the names of things (departments, hallways, offices, whether the cafeteria is called that or if it is a staff lounge, etc.) would also help me maintain continuity. So would an editor, but I’m not there yet!

I’m also doing fun internet searches for things like, ‘how many words can I type without injuring myself,’ because the all-meeting era of work meant that I really was NOT typing all day, every day, and my arms have their doubts about this. I’m still learning the ergonomic keyboard. I am learning to take breaks more regularly, and to use my amazing headphones to have a few lively dance numbers in the kitchen, so my blood circulates, and my body remembers life beyond my office chair.

Summary: I’m enjoying this, I’m glad I’m doing this, I’m gaining some new perspectives on how to improve it. Also, I believe this revision is now a higher priority than writing my fifth (!) novel(la) in November for NaNoWriMo, so I’ll keep at it.

Book: Progress on Editing My Novel

It is the season for one of my favorite, messy fruit: the pomegranate. Oh, how I love it.
A pomegranate snack is a great reward for hours of novel editing.

I’m 20,000+ words into revising my first novel(la), and… it feels like being employed! I am in my home office, at my computer, typing for hours on end, forgetting to stretch, and drinking lots of caffeinated beverages, so that seems about right.

My progress comes in streaks – I’m either in a writing mood (when I do my better work) or just plodding along doing more retyping than editing.

So far, I have about 47 pages of text with normal spacing, one space built in after each paragraph, and a 12 point font. Based on (gu)estimates from my small print first draft, where I’m on page 38 (of 134), I’ve added a light amount of clarifying and descriptive text, but haven’t yet made any big interventions in the story.

It is exciting to have gotten this far. I am aiming for about 80,000 words, so it is encouraging to know I’m about 1/4 of the way through this version of the rewrite. (But also: I’m only about 1/4 of they way through!)

During NaNoWriMo, writing 50,000 words over the month of November comes to writing about 1,667 words each calendar day, and so my 20,000 word progress equates to about 12 days of writing. Excluding days of reading and studying, this is my 5th day of just editing (and retyping), and my first with the new, ergonomic keyboard.

I need a nap. And more coffee. And then, to get back at it!

Books: My Books in Development

I had an interesting experience over the weekend, which was reading a novella that I wrote (!) in 2004, to see if I think it is viable for development into a full novel.

At the time I wrote it, I was concerned that it was too fresh in my mind to evaluate properly, so I set it aside and wrote three more novellas, one each in subsequent years, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Then I allowed my demanding job(s) to take over my life again. Now that so very much time as passed, I thought I’d see if it is worth working on.

The answer, to my own surprise, is YES.

Editing and expanding on a draft novel is a HUGE project, and… I’m a bit alarmed and intimidated.

But… I’m already more than 50,000 words committed! Why NOT develop it?? I was briefly indignant while reading about some confident middle schooler seeking agents to publish the first thing they ever wrote, before realizing that nothing is preventing me from taking similar steps. (Aside from my career, haha!)

I want to spruce it up and build it out a bit more, since the feedback I got from another writer is that there SHOULD be more of it – it held his interest all the way through, and he wanted to read more to read within the same story.

Editing a novel can take months or years, so I’m unsure how to set a schedule for myself on this. But I know it is worth starting, at the very least.

** ~ **

Meanwhile, I spent most of my energy yesterday laying out a new photography book, and… I’m supposed to do the same today!

It has been a while since I laid one out properly, and there are some new features at my favorite book printer, Blurb, that I am testing out. (I’ll write about those once my prototype arrives.)

I have laid out and self-published photo books before: eleven of them, including nine volumes of my iPhone 1 photo diary (!) and two thematic/place-based photo essay books. Blurb, which is based here in my hometown of San Francisco, does a beautiful job in printing and binding them, and provides a great online storefront to sell and display them. Their services are superb.

My best book so far was just an ordinary travel photography book, which I know is an awkward genre. Local photographers do the best work of documenting their location, because they see it in all seasons and in all of the lighting variations that occur over a year – there are photos local photographers take that a visitor is sure to miss. Visitors are subject to whatever the weather happens to be. I was just an outsider-tourist visiting during a cold and stormy month, and will never see these sites in all the familiar glory of a local who loves where they are every day.

Just the same, the process of creating this particular book was good for me. I had to think about photos as a set, rather than individually; think about how to lay them out, and how page spreads relate to each other; and learned how to mix slightly higher resolution digital images (from my whopping 4 megapixel digital camera of the time (weeping sound)) with very low resolution ones (from my iPhone 1), which inspired me to use some special effects to make use of the low-res images’ softness.

While I was taking photos for this book, I was continuing my (ordinarily domestic) phone photo diary practice, which also resulted in a Blurb book as part of my photo diary series. This was educational in different ways, most relating to its different content from my efforts to follow conventions in my formal work.

My phone photos are created for my own satisfaction, rather than to attempt to impress others or formally document some monument, and so are casual. I take photos of details at odd angles that won’t be good for drawing; I photograph ads and menus; I intentionally take photos of crowds of tourists at tourist sites, and especially enjoy photographing other people photographing. That isn’t the sort of thing included in most artsy/destination books, but are true to my experience of a place. (Note: Sylvia Plachy does a GREAT job of photos of people at tourist sites, though she brilliantly captures their personal drama at a level I cannot hope to achieve!). My phone photos show that I take photos of ads, signs, trash, art museum displays, selfies, and things I want to buy in shop windows, and the result is more…. comprehensive? Realistic? Varied in subject matter and more contemporary in representation? Maybe all of those things.

Under self-imposed rules of my phone-photo diary series, I also had to include EVERY photo I took in the book, so there was no editing of either content or the resulting jpeg files (except for limiting myself at the time due to storage limitations, and awareness that I had this rule). This means the book includes images which indulge my personal quirks, meet social obligations, and capture extremely minor details that are not especially artistic. (I did use some of these as an appendix in the art book, to personalize the book with experiences without including images of myself.)

(Aside: the garden on the cover was especially fun for me: I took a photo OF the other tourists in the designated/popular taking-photos-patio shown here FROM alongside the popular view of the landscape (an image of that appears within the book), and there was laughter from my fellow tourists when they looked away from that view and noticed…)

** ~ **

Back to the present: I intend to produce three photo books this autumn:

  • a book of black and white San Francisco architectural facades,
  • a book of images from an old, plastic-lensed camera from my paternal grandfather’s attic (which I can’t find my negatives for, so this project is delayed until those turn up), and
  • one of new (2021) Polaroid Duochrome images.

I only have one of these three books laid out, uploaded, and ordered. I haven’t scanned a single Polaroid yet, so I’ve got lots of work ahead of me… Wish me luck!

Life: Mysterious Notes

What the hell.

I was going to write about how I have no idea why I would have such a note in my files, because it raises SO MANY QUESTIONS.

A few hours after finding this ambiguous note, I recalled that this is work-related. Which somehow makes it worse?

During a Kaizen exercise at work, a colleague told me of their desperate quest to get information from people who inexplicably withheld it from them , and this phrase came up. I do Shingo-style Kaizens, so this sticky note was a step in the process I documented. It was honest enough that it belonged in the diagram: it was more clear than a euphemism would have been.

(The honesty didn’t get the problem solved.)

Culture: Very French descriptions of colors

I write with fountain pens and colorful inks, and often check to see if there are new colors I could be enjoying. A favorite French brand, Herbin, as both lovely colors AND notable descriptions of those colors on their website.

What do I mean? There is a lovely brown called “Terre de feu.” It evokes certain volcanic islands south of Chile. And the English translation of the description says, “This brown ink has a red tone a reminder of the burnt lands and vast deserts where nothing ever grows.”

NOTHING EVER GROWS THERE. BUY THIS INK!!

I can’t resist that.

Or a dusty rose. “Bouquet d’antan (Bouquet of yesterday pink): It represents a bouquet that can be found at an elderly’s house.” It’s a lovely color (I will buy a bottle!), but it also sounds like someone is rebuking their grandmother for nostalgia, doesn’t it? Yes, it does, as the description continues: “The color is the symbol of nostalgia of the time that has gone by.” GET OVER IT, GRANDMÈRE!

I didn’t know there was a color for “grievance,” but there is, and who doesn’t want to emphasize their grievances with an appropriate color?? Grievance is a delicious shade of violet. Of course it is.

It’s as if I’ve discovered a new view of the world, and can now wander about, attributing attitude to all of the colors in my home. Me tomorrow morning: “This antique gold with a hint of green evokes a bitter, fading houseplant which rejects the window you have chosen in your new apartment. It will NOT forgive you. This flat was a mistake. Available in 25 ml or 10 ml travel size.”

Two fountain pen inks I take the greatest pleasure in writing with are from Herbin. They flow well, are well saturated with color, never feather on my preferred papers, flow smoothly, and don’t clog my pens.

Your letters or journals will obviously look more clever in these colors. Your pen pals will sigh. You can sigh directly at https://www.jherbin.com/fountain_pen_inks.html

The colors I use regularly and love from Herbin: Poussiére de Lune (moondust, a rich violet); Vert Empire (a faded, velvety green); Rouge Grenat (a deep, pomegranate red); Corail des Tropiques (coral orange-pink, closer to Rouille D’Ancre than the color chart suggests; pleasantly legible, and as cheerful as a Caribbean beach vacation — now I’m really thinking this way); Emeraude de Chivor (turquoise-to-teal with bright red and metallic gold particles, which are only visible on less absorbent papers); and a new, tiny bottle of Bleu Myosotis (go read the description for that one!).

I also have a bottle of Herbin’s white calligraphy ink, which I use in a special pen on black paper, because: me. It offers good contrast, and handles well.

I’ve seen all the other fountain pen fanatic blogs, and I know I’m supposed to create a brilliant work of art with a watercolor brush AND write at least two major journal spreads in each of the colors I chose, plus provide a written specification of every tool in the room while I created it, describe what I had for lunch, and a provide an original recipe for that. Also, I must ensure that each color has its own separate blog entry. However, this just isn’t the day/week for that.

I understand the convention, so as a gesture of goodwill toward my fellow fanatics, I’ll share my own spontaneous, inept tribute to Emeraude de Chivor, because I can:


Example of me spontaneously going overboard in trying to pool Herbin’s Emeraude de Chivor drawn on Tomoe River cream-colored paper, in various bright or direct sunlight conditions.  I went extra heavy with an oversized calligraphy pen to  load up the paper so you can see the red and gold particles. 

If/when I dedicate a post to this ink the way I use it most, I’ll use a fountain pen with a fat nib so you can see each inky letter outlined in the red and gold particles when dry. It’s quite an effect – all correspondence I’ve written with it generated questions about how I did this magic.

~~~

Related to the idea of fun with how colors are labeled, but not entirely on topic: AI generated names for paint colors from Janelle Shane:

Life: Writing Amid Too Much Real News

Tiny clip from the reliable https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/ site

I’ve been quiet here, because there is a lot happening. A LOT. I’m not good at pretending otherwise.

I don’t want force false cheer or deny current events in my posting, because then it will read as, “A dangerous pandemic is raging out of control around the globe, my home state is on fire, my lungs are filled with smoke, my country is sliding into fascism, and HERE IS A NEW RECIPE FOR PICKLED BEETS!”

–me, just now

I’m having two kinds of interactions with people about the current state of affairs.

People who are cautious and have changed their lives since the pandemic became widespread are easy to chat with about our condensed, indoor lives. We’re trying to stay healthy and almost sane. We exchange recipes, movie recommendations, tell each other stories, share links, have video calls, compare masks, and discuss ways to solve pandemic-related logistical problems. (I want some of that fancy, vacated office space to be made available to schools which can no longer safely accommodate all of the students. Some of those offices (the ones that won’t have elevator lobby traffic jams) have VAST amounts of floor space, decent ventilation, zippy fast internet, and natural light. At even 30% occupancy per floor, they could support a lot of students! And yes, we’ll need to hire more teachers and support staff to make that work, and that would be worth it and potentially good for the recovery! And and and and…) My friends who are cautious may need to visit ailing relatives, and plan long, arduous car trips that may not involve stopping. They run errands, but do so cautiously and efficiently while masked. They avoid non-cautious people. If I have seen them within the last six months, I socialized with them outdoors and while wearing a mask.

People who are not cautious are living very different lives, and I can’t entirely relate to them. They are flying in airplanes. They are going on vacations and drinking in bars. They might as well tell me they are from Alpha Centauri. They aren’t appearing in Karens-gone-wild videos, thankfully, but I’m still judging them the way I judge people who don’t stop at stop signs. It’s not that I don’t understand taking risks to oneself: it’s putting others at risk that really bothers me.

These events are also changing what I read, and my reading has become GEEKY IN NEW WAYS. I have waaaay too many conversations about virology, antibodies, vaccine development, how clinical trials are supposed to be done (no, not all the researchers who don’t have the illness injecting themselves – THAT is just a bad version of Phase 1, people!); I’ve given two brief informal gushing chats on angiotensin-converting enzymes 2 (ACE2); I’ve translated acronyms for cardiac conditions potentially aggravated by COVID-19 to my father; I’ve started “liking” too many posts from UCSF about their nanobody-based potential treatment, AeroNabs; and I am constantly frustrated that I’ve got a lung health issue that is holding me back from going out to show up in person for the biggest civil rights mass movement of my adult life, Black Lives Matter.

I am NOT sending Twitter invitations to that asteroid that everyone is writing about, either.

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Will #asteroid 2011 ES4 hit Earth? 🌎 No! 2011 ES4’s close approach is “close” on an astronomical scale but poses no danger of actually hitting Earth. #PlanetaryDefense experts expect it to safely pass by at least 45,000 miles (792,000 football fields) away on Tuesday Sept. 1.

I’m sure I’ll find a way to write, perhaps even as if there isn’t ash in my hair from taking my compost bin out, but my brain is full, I’m tired, I’m discouraged at the state of my country, and I have not done anything to get the abs I was convinced (half-heartedly) that I could have had by now. This will all inevitably seep into my writing, and that is okay.