Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Tonight's Must-Read

Mark Pettus has a terrific new online literary journal called The Picolata Review. Go check it out.

Pay particular attention to Jamie Ford's stunning short story, entitled I am Chinese. I can't link to it directly, but click on The Picolata Review site and scroll down. Mark's done a wonderful job, and Jamie's piece is brilliant.

On my own novel, last night I finally cracked the 35,000 word barrier. And the 36,000 word barrier. And the 37,000 word barrier. If I'd gone for another hour, I swear I'd have hit 40,000. I was in a trance. I had to pry my fingers from the keyboard at 2:30 this morning and force myself to go to bed. I haven't had a writing session like that in a while. Damned book was writing itself.

I'm between a quarter of the way and a third of the way done with my first draft. I need to take this first dozen chapters and edit them for my agent. But I need to treat this chunk of manuscript like a completed first draft: Cut, form, rewrite, polish, repeat. Once those pages go to New York, I'll start the next chapter.

No, I've never written this way, but my agent is also a terrific editor, so I'd like to know what she thinks before I finish the story. It'll be easier to fix my mistakes now, 37,000 words in, than it will when I've got 110,000 on the hard drive.

But enough about my progress. Go check out Mark's terrific new journal, and be sure to read Jamie's story. You'll be glad you did.

Then get back to work. I hope you find the autopilot.


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Sunday, June 25, 2006

My All Time Top Five

OK, OK, so this blog is supposed to be about writing... which means reading, too, right? It's Sunday night. I have five days of work left before I'm gone on vacation, and I'm assembling my reading list for the four days the Saint and I will be spending in paradise. (Paradise also includes Cooperstown and Fly Creek, but I'm referring to vacation paradise.)

Yeah, we're bringing the new Barry Eisler in paperback, and I have some of William Kennedy's Albany cycle, and I'll bring along Konrath's latest, and probably the newest Lee Child.

But putting together my reading list got me thinking... I like keeping lists. I have lists for everything. I inherited this love of lists from my mother.

I'm not just talking about groceries, work and laundry. I list favorite movies, favorite songs, favorite singers, favorite writers.

And favorite books.

Here's my top five. They're all novels:

  1. Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
  2. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
  3. Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying
  4. Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
  5. William Kennedy, Legs
The top three, you can find in my blogger profile. But numbers four and five are the main reason I put up this post. They've been on my reading list for many years, at least since I was in high school. I've seen both the movie and the TV remake of In Cold Blood. Legs Diamond has fascinated me for years because he was a famous gangster murdered in Albany.

And over the past month, I finally read Legs and In Cold Blood.

Were they good? You be the judge: They knocked Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers right off the list. They pushed For Whom the Bell Tolls from number 4 to number 6. Those remain two of the best books I've ever read.

Yeah, I know, the list is fluid, but the top 2 haven't moved since 1992, and Lesson has been sitting pretty at number three for six years.

What does that say about me? Well, it opened my eyes. I read mostly thrillers. I write thrillers. But my top five? All literary fiction.

Which is good, I guess. And I admit, this post is self-indulgent, but I have a point (I hope).

What are your favorite books? What are your top three, five, ten?

I'm interested because I learned something about myself simply by compiling my own list. Maybe I'll learn something about you if you post yours.

Go ahead, indulge yourselves.


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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Twists and Turns

I love reading great mysteries and thrillers, plots twisting and turning, leading me in all kinds of different directions.

Those twists and turns have taken hold of my current manuscript, and my characters are going places I never planned for them in the outline. My characters are staying true to form, which is great, but they're leading me to new destinations.

My characters stop in both Washington and Albany in this novel. They were supposed to blow in and out in a couple of hours. Now they're spending two days in Washington and the climax of the book happens in Albany. Go figure.

Both cities are rich in history and political tradition, and it's fun doing the research for those chapters. It also helps that I can navigate parts of Washington like a native (well, since there are few real Washington natives, I can navigate it like somebody who has lived there for years) and I've been to Albany plenty of times and still have family there. It's a little over an hour from Fly Creek.

I'm really pleased with these new twists, because I hadn't planned for them at all. Now they're central to the book. Both the plot and the writing are stronger because of them.

I had a writing session today where my fingers just sort of danced over the keyboard while the story wrote itself. It's been a while since time stopped like that. It made me remember why I love writing so much.

In other news, it's June (where the hell did May go?) and that means school is almost over. The kids get to spend Grandchildren's Week with my parents, and the Saint and I get to spend part of that week on vacation.

It's the first time we've ever repeated a vacation destination. Then I'm back to work for a few days before the Saint and I take the kids to Gettysburg and Hershey for a little history and a lot of fun. Have I mentioned that my kids are history buffs like me?

I thought I'd be done with my first draft shortly after we return from vacation. Won't happen. I'll be close, but whatever. I'll be having fun with the Saint and the kids, and everything else will fall into place.

Thanks for stopping by while I've been away from the blog.