Friday, August 31, 2007

How it's going...

I actually had to spend most of my writing time today (limited mostly to grandson's afternoon nap time and late at night) writing out answers to an interview.

However, having talked about the number of words in a book in the last couple of posts, here's the latest on Drouthlord. The first is the % I have re-read and re-written with inserted material.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
80,856 / 180,000

The second is how many words I have actually written altogether and how much there is still to go. Looks better than it actually is, as a few thousand words will be cut I feel sure.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
153,442 / 180,000

Thursday, August 30, 2007

More on how long a book should be...

Patty made a comment yesterday that prompted this post...thanks, Patty.

Let me start by saying that there is something that does remain a mystery to me, and that's how authors - some of them, anyway - seem to know exactly how long a book is going to be before they even start if. They plan it meticulously, plan what they are going to say and what the characters will do chapter by chapter, and lo and behold, then they finish it looks just as they thought it was going to. I am much more haphazard. I know the ending, but I have no idea how many words it will take me to get there.

When I say that the present book will be 180,000, I mean that's the aim. But we will see. I don't want to sacrifice story coherence, and I certainly don't want to pad, in order to reach that magical number. In fact, it isn't magical at's just an estimation of how many words it will take to get this particular story written.

So how long should a book be, really, word-wise?

First of all, it depends on the genre.
Fantasy tends to be longer than Science fiction.
Historical fiction probably comes next in length, although sometimes it's up there with the fantasies...

Far behind, comes mainstream and Young Adult and other genres. Many - perhaps even most - of these are under 100,000 words. Why?

Basically, it's because with fantasy in particular, and to a lesser degree with historical and science fiction novels, the writer has to expend a large number of words telling the reader about the world. In a present day novel, you can say: Mary drove her dog to the vet's because it needed its shots, and in twelve words you have told the reader that we are talking about a woman who has access to a car and has a pet that she cares about. If the writer says, Illusa-zerise laid a hand on Korden's arm. 'He is your Mirager, Magori,' you have no idea of what is going on unless the world has been well-portrayed during the course of the story. (That's a sentence from Heart of the Mirage, by the way.) You don't even know if the people mentioned are male or female.

However, anything over 180,000 starts to get a bit unwieldy and presents publishers with a bigger cost. Unless they are very, very sure that you are a rising star in the publishing firmament, they are likely to tell you to cut down the verbiage. If you have already proved your self with your large sales figures they will smile happily because they know the reading public is going to be delighted to see a lengthy book from their favourite author.

Here are the approximate lengths of some of my books:
Havenstar (standalone and the first published book): 156,000
The Aware (first book in Isles of Glory trilogy) : 126,000
Gilfeather (second book) :146,000
The Heart of the Mirage (first book in Mirage Makers trilogy): 143,000
Song of the Shiver Barrens: 163,000 (Third book)

I can't remember the others, but I think they were in the 140-150,000 range. As you can see, I don't have a set number!

So what is the right length for an unpublished author?
The answer is:
1) Take a look at the length of the genre/type of book you are aiming to write, especially those written as first books.
2) Don't skimp and don't pad.
3) When you come to the end, if you think it is too skimpy, then consider rewriting scenes or characters at greater depth.
4) if you think it is too long, go through with your red pen. Look at unwieldy passages - can you say it more simply? Look at repetitions - especially of the kind where you show the action and then have characters discussing it, or worse, you the author pontificating on it.

Here's what agent Kristin on her entry for July 2nd had to say over at Pub Rants:

Some writers have an annoying habit of restating (via a thought their main character has) what has already been made apparent by the scene or the dialogue.

It's amazing how much you can tighten up your writing and improve your book, simply by cutting down on the unnecessary.

So what is the right length?
Answer: There is none. What counts is how good your story is, and how good your writing.

But for someone trying to break into the field, I'd be cautious about doing something too far outside the norm lengthwise.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How long should a book be?

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meterZokutou word meter
152,219 / 180,000

Here's the progress: the orangey bit is the new words, up from 148,707. Doesn't sound very much, but I am also pruning as I go, tightening up the previously written, so I am well content.

Here's the actual percentage of what I have gone through correcting, cutting and filling in the gaps:

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
72,409 / 180,000

I haven't actually written a book quite this way before. The normal thing for me is to write from the beginning to the end and then revise, revise, revise. Sometimes I do stop a couple of times (typically about a third and then again at two-thirds the way in) to reread from the beginning, just to make sure I am on the right track. And yes, I do tend to tidy up on those rereads.

{Word of warning to novice writers: it is easy to keep doing this, revising all the time, instead of ever getting to the end. So watch yourself - don't go back and reread unless you have a reason, and don't try to polish too much until you have a first draft in your hand. I suspect there are far more books begun than there are ever books finished. If you are writing your first book, your initial aim should be to reach the END. Never lose sight of that goal. You won't have finished the book, but you will have a full draft to work with, which is more than most people ever do.}

This time though, when I was writing the first draft, I could see that the book was becoming too long, so I kept trying to keep the verbiage down.

Mistake. It ended up - as my first beta readers attested - being a story that had skimpy sections that were frustrating because the reader wanted the details. It also ended up 205,000 words long. Far too long, unless you are "a name" and can sell anything you write without publishers swallowing sickly at the length. (Just compare the length of the unknown Rowling's first HP book to the length of the famous Rowling's later ones.)

In other words, I had a story that was too long for the word length I had allotted.

What to do?

The answer was simple. I had to fill in the empty spaces to make it a good story. And I had to come to the end much sooner to make it a publishable story.

But the year was 2002. And other books got in the way. I had contracts for The Isles of Glory, and then more contracts for The Mirage Makers - and deadlines, one after the other. So the story of The Random Rain Cycle was abandoned while I wrote other things.

Re-reading the MS after five years away from it was great. It was clear that there was a natural ending at about 144,000 words. Just the kind of ending I like to give my readers - there is closure of the more immediate story, but lots of loose ends to entice them back to see what happens in the larger tale.

So that is what I am working on now - a complete story that has sections which need plumping out. There is one major new character too - the love interest of one of the others - who wasn't there at all in the earlier version.

It's fun, but tricky. Everything has to dovetail, and it is incredibly easy to muck up the continuity when you put in major insertions. Revision, once I have finished, will have to be very, very careful...

More photos of Biltmore

Text on entry below.

Biltmore Estate

Along the way we took a day to explore Biltmore Estate.

Everything about this reminded me of visiting one of Britain’s stately homes – Longleat or Chatsworth, for example, mixed in with a chateau in France for good measure. There was a working farm, a winery, a forest – and a house. My grandson said it was a palace, and I guess he was right.

My hips forbade me from accessing anything other than the two floors accessible without climbing stairs, but even so, it was a fascinating day. Built in the 1890s by one of the Vanderbilt family as his home, it was first opened to the public during the depression years. It is still America’s largest private house, and is owned by the grandson. The house covers 4 acres - just to put that in perspective, I grew up on a mixed farm which was just 8 acres, and which was large enough to support our family.

I expected something over the top grand and garish and was pleasantly surprised. Well, the Great Hall was a bit ridiculous, super-sized and worthy of nothing less than an absolute monarch, complete with thrones and an organ and somehow more reminiscent of a cathedral in its grandeur and size, but the rest of the house was rather lovely. My favourite bits were the hand-tooled leather walls of the billiard room, and the gold-painted burlap walls in one of the bedrooms. That's right - burlap. Surely one of the cheapest and plainest of fibres (otherwise known as gunny sacking, or hessian, made from jute...)

And there were a couple of Renoirs, a painter who has always been one of my favourites. Lovely.

Unfortunately photos were not allowed inside, but here are some photos taken outside and in the grounds.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Travelling from Virginia to North Carolina

A writer works anywhere.

That's me in the white hat leaning over the stone wall admiring the view...

We went to North Carolina for the weekend. My daughter had a wedding to attend. This entailed a lovely drive through the Shenandoah Valley, up over the Blue Ridge/Smoky Mountains and down into Ashville/Hendersonville. Gorgeous scenery, and we were blessed with great summery weather too.

Of course, I did a bit of writing whenever there was a spare moment.
A pix of me at work in a kid's playground...!

And I added another state to my USA total: Tennessee.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

SFF awards - the broad picture

I will be away for a couple of days, and I am not sure what sort of connectivity I will have for the next couple of days. Back Sunday night.

In the meantime, check this out: a site devoted to sff awards and (??hopefully??!) the controversies they generate come time for nominations, rule changes and winners...

Many thanks to the (very experienced sff) team who ran with this idea and have the site up and running. It's on my list of favourites already.

And if the date and time of posts here is puzzling you, it's because I haven't changed by computer clock/date away from Malaysian time, which is exactly 12 hrs in advance of east coast USA.

Everyone wants to be a writer.

Are they mad?

So it seems. Read this (from the Guardian newspaper - thanks to Bibliobibuli for the link). It seems that:

A YouGov poll has found that almost 10% of Britons aspire to being an author, followed by sports personality, pilot, astronaut and event organiser on the list of most coveted jobs". The writing aspiration was especially noticeable in the over-35 female segment of the population.

Now, of all the career paths to choose, writing fiction is probably the least remunerative - or to put it even more bluntly, the worst paid for the hours involved. It is also a job where you work for (possibly) years, certainly a great many months, without any remuneration at all or in fact, any guarantee of reimbursement of expenses, let alone pay.

And even once you do get published, the amount of money you get is likely to be small, with no pension or employee benefits, or medical benefits. No job security or any guarantees are included. NONE. Even if you write a best seller or an award winner, there is no guarantee that you will be able to sell a book that you write, say, in 10 years time.

Glamour? Forget it. What's glamorous about sitting at a computer for most of your day, in splendid isolation?

And here is one of the reasons why you should never consider writing as a career. Another Guardian newspaper article says:

A quarter of US adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year."

Nothing to say that they bought those books new. They could have been borrowed from friends or a library, or bought secondhand, in which case the authors never earned a penny for their work.

More from the poll: "Women and pensioners were most avid readers, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices. The median figure for books read - with half reading more, half fewer - was nine books for women and five for men."

And - why am I not surprised: "Democrats and liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives."

Then, just to depress every author around: "Book sales in the US have been flat in recent years and are expected to stay that way indefinitely."

Why, then, do I write? Because I have to. Because it is what I love to do. Because I have stories to tell. And because, on occasion, I come across a crowd of young people like Wendy and the group of readers and librarians who were in the sff section of Barnes and Noble Charlottesville last night, people who affirm my faith in readers and intelligent young people who want to have their minds stimulated by stories that push the envelope and stretch the imagination.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Beautiful things...

Today I was standing on the front steps of my daughter's house, next to a flowering plant with honey-suckle-like blossoms. And a ruby-throated hummingbird came to sip at the nectar, hovering at my elbow. I could have reached out and touched it with a finger. Suspended before me, a manikin on invisible strings, regarding me with its tiny shining black bead of an eye. Evidently deciding I was harmless, it hummed its way from flower to flower not even an arm's length from this clumsy, fumbling imperfect human. Iridescent green, sheened gold, each feather perfection, each wing invisible - just a blur across the leaves - tail tipped black and white, stiletto beak stabbing with the precision of a sewing machine needle...a wonder in a world we skim by with so little empathy or understanding.

My grandson, just three, his world as totally self-centred as a child's horizon dictates it must be, yet exploring with his imagination in ways that astound me. In a moment, he can be a princess, a prince, a boy trying to grow up or a baby to be pampered. He uses language - a free-flowing waterfall of words - in ways not limited as we adults limit ourselves with thoughts of rules and the niceties of our polity and our desire not to appear ridiculous. He is a king, a dancer, a singer, a chef, a vulgar story teller and a kind Cinderella, all in the space of a single tale. When he is overwhelmed and uncertain, he says, "I want to go home" even when he is already home. And in so doing he sums up the adult world, where we would all like to go home, yet never can, not truly, for only as children - if we were lucky - did we know what it was to be enfolded within the safety of parental love and the security of a mother's arms and to believe utterly and fearlessly that we were indeed safely home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Baby-sitting detail

First day on duty.
I'm exhausted. Grandson is still racing around at 8.30 p.m.
Did manage to get some writing done though, while he had a nap, and am happy with how that is going. Will put up the word counter tomorrow when I sort out how to get my laptop onto the house wifi...

Grandson is very cute. Also very stubborn. Can't imagine where he gets that from!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Arrived in Virginia...

The planes seem to get smaller and smaller from Singapore onwards. The last, from Washington DC to Charlottesville, was probably the most expensive per mile of all, and it was small enough to have its own steps.

Anyway, here I am in Virginia, visiting first daughter and grandson. After California, it is sooooo green. And lots more birds too.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

L.A. Art...

I am leaving for Virginia tomorrow.
Here are some photos we took this evening around where my daughter lives.

Space invader art - these tiled art works are found in many different parts of the world...

Pix 2, 3 and 4 all portray where I have been staying...if you know where to look.

5 is L.A. city and 6 is an owl - on guard against the pigeons, I guess. Or just some fun art?

Friday, August 17, 2007

When in ....

...Rome L.A, do as the locals do?

Since coming here I have done some things I have never done before: had a massage in an upmarket spa along Sunset Boulevard, for a start.

Anyone who knows me will know that spending time in a spa is, well, not exactly me. Firstly, I can always think of things I would rather be doing with my money than pampering myself with stuff that really doesn't matter. Secondly, well - do I need a second reason? But my daughter had some gift certificates, and so off we went to the spa...

Which was all insanely luxurious and deliciously pleasant and horribly decadent.

We then went and had a cheapo pedicure and a manicure in a Vietnamese assembly line beauty parlour - fun place actually, where you can - at the same time as your feet are being mangled by charmingly indifferent humans - have your back massaged by one of those awful massage chairs that feel like something out of a horror movie. ("Eek! Janey, the chair's alive! It's eating meeeffmwmwm!")

I now have polished nails for the first time years? Which is much more fun than doing it every week...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Back at work and loving it

This is what my word meter looked like last time I was working on Drouthlord, Book One of The Random Rain Quartet (working titles).

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
147,000 / 180,000

This is what it looks like when I finished today...

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
148,707 / 180,000

Looks much same visually, but it has actually crept up a bit. My daughter has to go to work, and I am still under that compulsary rest regime, so what else is there to do but write? Actually I did quite a bit more than the meter indicates, as I also deleted and rewrote...

I love my work.