October Scribblings

This year has been pretty unproductive as far as writing goes, although I’m pleased to announce that Corrugated Sky‘s second anthology, Smoke and Steam, is in production and we hope to have it out before Halloween. Save up your dimes and be sure to buy a copy (or two or three)! The book will include four novella-length short stories, so this volume will be much heftier than Tales of the Black Dog, running in the neighborhood of 250 pages.

I have to admit that work has wiped me out mentally this year, but I finally feel as though I’m pulling out of the nose-dive and managing to get back at the keyboard without feeling an overwhelming sense of loathing. Since I work as a copy editor, I read all the time and I guess I just got burned out. Instead of writing and reading, I’ve been taking up knitting (yes, really) and making small projects that make me feel as though I’ve accomplished something. Although I did make a shawl, and that wasn’t really a small project, so I feel doubly accomplished for managing to finish the project (and I’ve even worn it a couple of times).

I have three major writing projects on my desk right now: the Smoke and Steam anthology; my novel, Seacombe Island; and a nonfiction project that I’m developing from my master’s thesis, which has been sitting for three years collecting dust. I’m ambivalent about doing NaNo this year, but a part of me says that I need the mental challenge and group pressure to get back at the keyboard and stay there. We’ll see. I have 26 days to make up my mind!

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I Can Has Allergies

I really, really, really need to move. Since mid-March I’ve had a stomach bug, allergies, and a sinus infection. After battling the sinus thing for three weeks and coughing so hard that I pulled a muscle, I realized that I needed more than vitamin C. So, I went up to a local walk-in clinic for antibiotics and some nasal spray. Well, that helped a lot, but I still have allergy headaches, and now I’m having eye strain headaches. I need a vacation, and I need a paradise to escape to. It sure looks pretty outside, but … achoo!

In March and early April I’ve so busy that I’ve had to let the blog “rest” for awhile. I had an encyclopedia article on howdahs to complete by the end of March, and then I had to prepare a paper for presentation on Victorian detectives, detective fiction, and journalism for the 2017 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of British Studies. And this week I just wrapped up an entry on the cultural and historical impact of Ray Bradbury for another encyclopedia. And all this stuff is in addition to my full-time job.

Yes, I do sit at the computer for a very long time every day! And this is a problem, so I’ve joined a local gym and signed up for four training sessions. My second one is today, and I’ve actually worked out twice so far this week.

I’m slowly catching up on my writing goal of 240,000 words for this year, despite a couple of very unproductive weeks. With this blog post, I’m just about 700 words behind where I want to be, but I still have two days left in my writing work week. On the fiction writing front, I’m starting the revisions to my Steampunk story for Corrugated Sky’s second anthology, to be published in late spring or early summer. Seacombe Island is next up; it’s getting a final revision and should also be published this year. I have several nonfiction projects in the queue as well, including a proposal for a chapter in a book on World War I, a book of writer’s prompts, and extending my research and writing about Victorian detectives. Oh, and there might be a cocktail book in the works, too. But that’s for after hours!

A Busy Spring

I’m behind in my ambitious writing goal for the year, which is no huge surprise given that I set the bar very high at 240,000 words. I’m counting editing and revision at 750 words an hour, which is three-quarters of what the NaNoWriMo site recommends, but it jives with the amount of work I usually get done in an hour when I edit/revise my work.

It’s a busy spring for me so far. I have nine writing-related projects on my desk this quarter, including encyclopedia articles on the Scott Antarctic Expedition and the Indian Howdah for ABC-Clio’s The British Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia; a biography and a cultural and historical context article on Ray Bradbury for Salem Press’s Critical Insights: Ray Bradbury encyclopedia; my first draft for Corrugated Sky’s second anthology.

I’m also going to present a paper at the Mid-Atlantic Conference on British Studies annual meeting, which is coming up the beginning of April, so I need to delve back into my research for that. Which brings me to another project, which is turning my master’s thesis (about 100 pages) into a full-length book. But for that, I need a lot more research, so it’s a time-intensive project.

And the last two items on my list (so far this year) are my novel, Seacombe Island, and a book on writer’s prompts. I’ve spent quite a bit of time organizing my calendar and to-do list so I’m not having all the deadlines at once, but it means working ahead and I find that soft deadlines (ones I impose on myself) are easier to let slide by than hard deadlines (drop-dead dates, or dates imposed by the publisher). I pride myself on not missing hard deadlines, although I’ve had to ask for two- or three-day extensions in the past when an article has proven to be troublesome, or when holidays muck up my scheduling.

And so I’m avoiding working on articles right now by, well, writing about my writing. I guess that counts as words toward my yearly goal, so I’ll gloat on that for a moment and then clear my desk and get cracking on today’s list of things to work on.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 115

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This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about dialogue. During a recent writer’s group meeting one of my reviewers noted that my draft had a lot of dialogue tags. Those are things like “Sam said,” “she said,” etc. It’s good to have some of them to make sure that a reader can follow your character’s exchanges and know which of them is speaking, but too many tags draw attention to themselves and not the speech.

So that gave me a thought: why not write some dialogue that purposely uses too many tags, and then rewrite the entire piece with none at all? The point is to become aware of using tags by planting one on every line of speech and then seeing how many you can get rid of before it’s too difficult to follow the dialogue.

You can avoid dialogue tags by adding descriptors to the sentence that show action. For instance, in my novel Seacombe Island (I’m still looking for an agent — hey, is anyone reading this?) I have these two short paragraphs. On the first one there is clearly a dialogue tag to indicate that Jasper is speaking, but on the second one I’ve avoided having a tag by instead providing a descriptive bit about Tom:

      “You wouldn’t have jumped,” said Jasper, spreading his hands wide and stepping down off the stairs. “We had no time for niceties and such.”
      “I could have drowned!” Tom’s voice seemed strained to his own ears, as though he had been shouting for hours. “Did you even think of that?”

So there’s your inspiration. Write at least ten lines of dialogue between two or more speakers (of course, I’m assuming your character doesn’t spend much time talking to himself or herself). Copy and paste the text so you have two sets of speech. Now, on the first set, make sure you have a dialogue tag for every character every time they speak. For the second set strip out all the tags and rewrite as necessary to make sure the dialogue is clear.