Back to the novel

I’m back to work on my novel, and my brother gets some of the credit, for pointing out something that I had not considered.

Last summer, I was feeling especially good. I was feeling fit, both mentally and physically, and enjoying life. I noticed that, the more time I spent outdoors, the better I felt. I had a lot of guesses about what might have been going on. Maybe I was feeling better because I was getting:

  • Extra movement (I was mostly outdoors either to walk or to run)
  • Extra time spent in the prairie and the woods (walks in nature are known to improve mood)
  • Extra fresh air
  • Extra alone time (I ran by myself)
  • Extra together time with Jackie (we did many long walks together)
  • Extra light (full sun at noon on a clear day is over 100,000 lux)
  • Extra vitamin D (a pale guy like me can make 10,000 IU in just 20 or 40 minutes)
  • The placebo effect (just doing something can often make you feel better)

I was inclined to credit the extra vitamin D (which probably helps mood). I have gone so far as to get my doctor to order a vitamin D test along with the other blood tests for my annual physical. (We’ll see how my vitamin D levels held up over the long dark winter. If the results are interesting, I’ll post them.)

I was describing all this to my brother, who said, “I think you were feeling great during high summer because you had made plans and you were executing on them. You made a plan to walk the rail trail and did that, and then made a plan to go to France (for the Esperanto conference) and did that too.”

That sounded very reasonable.

Steven, of course, had his own idea about what I might next plan and then execute (“I think you should make a plan to write an essay for the Belartaj Konkursoj”), but I knew that the most important thing to work on is my novel.

So, I’m back to work on it. Starting with a plan.

In its broadest outline, my plan is simple.

I had stalled out because I’d realized that I’d gotten the end of my novel wrong. So, I’ll fix that.

I’ll spend a couple of hours brainstorming the ideal ending of a novel along the lines of the one I’ve written, and then I’ll write the ending to that novel.

Then I can back up and rewrite the beginning so that it leads the ending I’ve come up with.

I’ve known this would be what I’d have to do for a long time. It seemed daunting six months ago, because I’d just rewritten the first part, and the idea of doing it again seemed excruciating. But now, I think I can face it.

I’m more than a little excited about writing the ending from scratch. I’ve got lots of stuff to work with—heroes I like, menacing characters for them to deal with, danger, complexity.

And, if I don’t remember all the details about exactly who was menacing in which way or why, that’s entirely okay. I’ll figure out just what sort of menacing most suites the ending I come up with. Then I can go back and diddle around with the menacing in the middle and at the beginning to make it match.

It’s got all the excitement of starting work on a new novel, with just a quarter of the work!

Playing on the slackline

Most nice days there are some folks on the quad with a slackline—a strip of nylon webbing perhaps an inch wide pulled fairly tight between two trees. You—if you’ve got pretty good balance—can walk the line from one tree to the other. Today for the first time, I gave it a try.

My first attempts were not a success—I was able to get up on the line, but not able to balance myself without an assist, nor walk more than a step even with an assist.

I did, however, learn a lot.

The balance work I’ve done as part of my taiji practice—single-leg standing—has been very different. All my experience in taiji has been about establishing a stable base on the standing leg. If you do that, then you can do pretty much whatever you want with your arms or your other leg.

The slackline is completely different. There is no stable base, and trying to establish one is pointless. Instead, you need to just accept the fact that your base is unstable: You need to actively provide your own stability, by constantly adjusting to the constantly moving slackline under you.

I only had a few minutes to experiment before my Esperanto meeting, so I didn’t figure out the trick before it was time to move on. But I think I’ve got the intellectual part figured out. Just like a tray is balanced with your hands and arms and not with your eyes, you need to trust your feet, ankles, and legs to do what is necessary without staring at the line: the feedback via your eyes is simply not fast enough to be useful.

To attend my Esperanto meeting, I’ll be wandering through the quad most Saturday afternoons all spring, so hopefully I’ll get several more chances to play on the slackline. I expect I’ll get it figured out before summer.

Making a note here: Huge Success

What a wonderful party! (“I’m making a note here: Huge success. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.”)

That’s Wellington on the right and Alexander the Grape on the left.

Thanks to all the folks who braved the elephants to attend! (Here’s a picture of a couple of the elephants that people had to brave.)

Jackie and I had never thrown a party together (if you don’t count our wedding reception, which was really thrown by Jackie’s mom on our behalf). Our apartment at Country Fair was too small and too cluttered for us to want to show it off. I did have a similar sort of open house party at my house in Philo when I bought it, before I met Jackie, and it was a pretty good party, but not as good as this one (because I didn’t really know anyone to invite except coworkers).

We had a great turn out. There were a bunch of taiji folks, both from the class that I attend and the class I teach, and there were a bunch of former coworkers, and a bunch of Jackie’s spinning and weaving guild members, as well representatives of the local speculative fiction writing and Esperantist communities. We had a lot of spouses and kids as well, so it was a very interesting group.

Everybody commented on how open and light our new place is, and how well it suits us. (It seems that anybody who’s lived in Champaign-Urbana for more than a few years knows somebody who lived in Winfield Village. I was initially surprised by this, but it’s so universally true, I’ve almost come to expect it.)

There was a great deal of interest in Jackie’s loom (something that you don’t see in just every house) and her spinning wheel and the yarn and woven items displayed all over the house. We don’t have much of our art hung yet, but the few pieces we have up all drew favorable comments.

I didn’t get to talk to anybody as much as I’d have liked, and barely managed to talk at all with a few people. I think future parties will be a bit smaller, so there’s more time to spend with each guest. (Sorry if I neglected you! Send me some email! Let’s do lunch!)

Pre-party preparations were a big deal of course, involving as they did unpacking all our worldly possessions and finding places for everything. Happily, post-party cleanup was almost trivial. (Because we just served snacks and deserts and not a real meal, and because we didn’t invite any undergrads.) We were mostly done cleaning up before the first Superbowl ad.

Now we have way too many deserts left over. Too much wine as well, but the wine will keep until we’re ready.

No Admittance Except on Party Business

I considered putting a note to that effect on the door, but I was afraid there would be people who wouldn’t get the joke. (The downside of having such a diverse group of friends—no matter how pervasive something is in our culture, Jackie and I will know a few people for whom it is utterly outside their experience.)

Party preparations are nearly complete.

I got the study tidy! (Those of you who have seen it in the past month would be astounded.) I need to do a photo shoot of my writing space, now that it is so wonderfully open and inviting, but I have not yet had the time to get good pictures.

This morning I made candy and baked cookies for the party. (The candy is what I call Platonic Candy, because it is candy reduced to its platonic essence: sugar, fat, a little flavoring. The cookies are Ginger Sparkles.)

This afternoon, while I’m at Esperanto, Jackie will prepare her contributions to the party comestibles.

In the evening we’ll do our final cleaning up.

Sunday we’ll be able to laze about lazily all morning, until people start showing up for the party.

Yesterday’s weather report was kind of alarming, predicting that several inches of snow were possible. Today’s forecast is better, with less snow expected. Hopefully the weather won’t keep too many people home from our party.

Projects for winter and spring

We have a bunch of things we’re hoping to do this year, and most of them require some amount of preparation—preparation which will have to occur in the winter and spring.

My plans stretch out to the end of July, because the last week of July I’ll be in Lille, France to attend the 100th Universala Kongreso de Esperanto.

As preparation for that, I really want to spend half an hour almost every day practicing my Esperanto. That should be plenty—I already read and write the language and I’ve attended international Esperanto gatherings in the past. But just a bit of practice listening to spoken Esperanto (podcasts and such) and a bit of practice actually conversing (with my local Esperanto group, and such other folks as I can find) will go a long way toward making attending this kongreso a rich and satisfying experience.

About a month before that will be the solstice, and right around then—second half of June or very early July—is the only good chance do the Kal-Haven trail walk that we’ve hoped to do each of the last two years. (In those weeks because only then are the days long enough to finish the walk in daylight.)

As preparation for that, we need to go on several walks each week, including a very long walk roughly every other week, working our way up to being able to walk the 33.5 mile trail.

Several months earlier—just one month from now—we’re going to have a little party for people to come see our townhouse. We’ve fixed the date as February 1st, and are thinking of it as a celebration of Groundhog’s Day Eve, or  Imbolc, if you prefer. Invitations are forthcoming. If you don’t get one, it is surely an oversight—let me know.

As preparation for that, we need to finish unpacking!

Without a specific deadline, but very soon now, I want to finish revising my novel so I can get it out to first readers.

As preparation for that, I need to spend an hour or two every morning writing.

Normally at this time of year we’d also be planning our garden, but Jackie has convinced me that working a garden plot this summer will be more than we can manage.

Writing in 2014

I haven’t published any fiction this year, but I did finish the zeroth draft of a novel.

I hesitated to claim this milestone, holding out for a proper first draft that I can share with a few select first-readers. But the end of the year has arrived and my novel remains (as it has been for several months now) this close to being a first draft. Still—a zeroth draft is something.

We moved. Granting that moving is not writing, and acknowledging that this post is where I review my writing in 2014, I’m still going to mention the fact, because moving takes so much time and effort. And we didn’t just move once. We moved three times: To our summer place, then to our winter palace, and finally to Winfield Village. Because of that, I totally gave myself a pass on productivity for the summer and fall.

However, I officially revoked that pass as of the solstice. I really, really want to get the novel out for people to read, and the only way to do that is to work on it every day. To that end, I’m back to working on it daily—and did in fact work on it every day for the last 10, except that I gave myself Christmas Day off (hat-tip to ol’ Ebenezer).

I’m actually quite confident that I’ll get the novel done (that is, in a proper first-draft state) in fairly short order. Confident enough that I’ve started to do trivial stuff, such as tweaking the formatting. (I’m assuming that most of my first-readers will want an ebook, rather than paper, so I’m fiddling with Scrivener’s ebook generation parameters. When I finish, I want to be able to generate a book right away, and not have to spend three days on ebook configuration to get what I want.)

I did a few other small bits of fiction writing. In particular, I wrote a very short story in Esperanto and submitted it to the UEA Belarta Konkurso. It didn’t win a prize, so I should follow up by submitting it to some Esperanto literary magazine, but I haven’t done that yet.

I wrote a lot less for Wise Bread than I have in past years, but they did publish 6 of my articles:

Very late in the year, that last article got featured on Business Insider as The Simplest Way to Live Simply and Cheaply.

Storytelling (including running with zombies)

We went to a local storytelling event last night. There were about six storytellers, telling stories over the course of most of two hours (with a 15 minute break). They served beer and wine, but we’d been to Whiskey Wednesday, so we didn’t get further alcohol.

There’s an active community of storytellers in town. As a writer, I’m extremely aware of the difference between writing stories and telling stories, and I’m endlessly fascinated by storytelling. The stories I write in English wouldn’t lend themselves to telling (although they read aloud okay). But the theme of the events (monsters and dragons) reminded me of my first Esperanto story, which was about monsters, and it occurred to me that story would probably work for telling pretty well.

Somebody ought to get some Esperanto storytelling events going.

This event, which was in English, was pretty cool. They had a good number of children in attendance (drawn, I suppose, by the monsters and dragons theme). They’re talking about making a monthly thing out of it, and I just might make my way downtown to listen to stories on a regular basis if they do.

Speaking of storytelling, I’ve been continuing to use Zombies Run when I run, because I enjoy the storytelling aspects. (And I am enjoying hearing the story unfold, quite a bit. I’ve got quite a bit more to listen to, but I’m already looking forward to replaying season one. In particular, I’ve been playing so far without zombie chases, and I’m sure adding those will change things enough to make it extra-replayable.)

Not really related to the storytelling aspect, but interesting to me, is that using the game has had an impact on my training runs.

The game is set up to give you training runs about 30 minutes (or about 60 minutes). The story is divided into 5 or 6 audio clips that dramatize the story. Between each pair of clips, the game plays 1 song (or 2 songs) from your running playlist.

Early in the season like this, my fitness improves almost every run. (Especially because the weather often makes it impossible to run day after day, so I’m getting my recover days in.) Normally what happens is that I’ll find a distance I can run at my current level of fitness, and I’ll run that distance pretty often for a while, until I get fit enough to run further. (Later in the season I mix it up more with a weekly “long” run.)

In years past, at this point in the season, I’d be running my regular 2.2-mile loop for most of my runs, and my times would be gradually improving.

Now, though, all my runs are about 30 minutes. But, as my fitness improves, instead of finishing a standard length sooner, I’m running for a standard period of time and having to run further.

The last two runs there was still story to go when I got back, and I ended up having to run around the apartment complex. In order to be sure I’ll have finished the story by the time I’ve finished my run, I’m going to have to start running a longer route! (The game has a feature for making sure that a route that runs longer than an episode doesn’t leave you bereft. It’s called “radio mode” it goes on playing stuff from your playlist, still alternated with audio clips, but these audio clips don’t try to advance the story. They just provides some local color. So, if you finish a mission, but end up running another 10 minutes to get home, it switches seamlessly to those bits.)

Once the weather improves a tiny bit more, and I’m running more days per week, I’ll probably ease up just a bit on my all-zombie running, which will make it easier to mix up the distance a bit more.

Maybe I’ll also practice telling a story in Esperanto.

Writing in 2013

I’m kind of disappointed with my writing in 2013. I wrote less this year than any year since I quit working a regular job.

I don’t have any new fictions sales. Worse, I don’t even have any stories out, which is just dumb, because I’ve got some new stories that have not yet made the rounds.

I was less productive at my non-fiction writing as well, only writing 15 articles for Wise Bread. (Actually, I’ve written two more that have been turned in to Wise Bread, and that I assume will be published in due course.)

There are bright spots. I’ve got a novel-in-progess that continues to appeal. (Unlike previous novel attempts that fell apart after ten or twenty thousand words.) In the first half of the year, I completed two short stories (plus one in Esperanto). As the year drew to a close, I was back at work on my novel, writing every morning. It feels good. (I’ve started a new post about my new writing schedule, that I’ll post once I have a bit more experience with how it’s going.)

Here’s the list of Wise Bread posts for this year. I’m pretty pleased with all of these, even though there aren’t as many as I’d like. (Can you spot where the Wise Bread editors started rewriting all my headlines?)