Susan Straight and the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

I learned this morning that Susan Straight was awarded the Robert Kirsch award as part of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. Back in my college days at the University of California, Riverside, I had Susan Straight as a creative writing instructor for two advanced fiction writing classes. She was one of the best instructors that I had, and by far, the most encouraging. This was twenty years ago, and in the two decades since, I’ve tried to write, eventually succeeded, and have, to-date, about 10 short fiction credits and half a dozen nonfiction credits to my name.

Back then, I was a nobody, but Susan was always encouraging. Here is just one example. At the end of the second class I took with her, I asked her to sign her (then current) book, I’ve Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots. This is what she wrote:

Susan Straight

I was delighted to see Susan get her award for her fiction set in Riverside, and feel fortunate to have had her as an instructor.

My Next Writing Project: Starting the Second Draft of the Novel

Tomorrow, I will start writing the second draft of the novel I wrote last year. As a brief recap: I started writing the novel last February, without actually knowing I was writing a novel. I wrote the story with some fits and starts until it finally caught, and then continued to write, finishing the first draft in mid-September. It was the first novel draft I ever completed. It came in at 95,000 words.

I took a few months off to write short stories, and during that time, I wrote 3 complete stories, one of which I subsequently sold, and a fourth story, a novella, which I’ve been working on ever since. Also during that time, I wrote several pieces of nonfiction.

Beginning in December, I started to re-read the novel I wrote, going through it slowly and deliberately, and taking a lot of notes. By the time I’d finished that re-read, I had accumulated around 15,000 words worth of notes. I had originally intended to start on the second draft back in December, but I was working on other things, and spring really seems like the right time to start on something new. And so, tomorrow, I’ll begin writing the second draft of the novel.

One good thing about having all of the writing data that I’ve captured is that it makes it fairly easy to predict when I’ll finish a project like this. Over the course of the last 409 days, I’ve averaged 834 words of fiction per day. Using that number, and assuming the novel will come in at around 90,000 words, you get 108 days, which, if I start tomorrow, means I’ll finish on July 30, 2014.

This assumes that I will write every day, which is a safe assumption. As of today, I have written for 264 consecutive days, and 407 out of the last 409 days.

Still, I’ll add a two week buffer to that July 30 date, since I may write some nonfiction articles during that time, and that buffer puts me at about August 15, 2014.

That said, the draft could be done sooner for two reasons:

First, during the time I was working on the first draft, I average 910 words/day, somewhat higher than my overall average. The 910 words/day brings things closer to 99 days, or July 21.

Second, while writing the first draft, I didn’t really know the story. I don’t work from an outline. I thought I knew how the story would end, and just figured it out as I went along. This has become my usual process for first drafts. For second drafts, I’ve now told myself the story, and I know what the story is about. Second drafts are always complete rewrites for me. I am trying to take what I did in the first draft and make it interesting for readers. The first draft, therefore, becomes an outline of sorts, along with the notes that I took on reading the draft. Armed with that knowledge, I think it will be easier to get through each day’s worth of writing because I’ll actually know what I’ll be writing about, instead of sitting around trying to figure it out.

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Throwback Thursday, April 10, 2014 #tbt

For Throwback Thursday this week, I present me and my brother holding up our certificate of completion for Safety Town, while standing dangerously close to a passing car1 back in Somerset, New Jersey. This would have been 1978 or 1979.

Safety Town

People often comment with some surprise that my hair was once so light. This baffles me. My hair was very light as a child, grew a little darker for about 5 minutes, and then went even lighter. Or, as we in middle like to say, gray.

Notes

  1. Not really, the car was parked people!

Going Paperless: 3 Ways I Annotate Notes in Evernote to Make Life a Little Easier

Prior to going paperless, I often found myself jotting notes down on various pieces of paper in order to keep track of things. If I paid a bill, I’d scribble the check number with which the bill was paid right on the statement so it was readily available if I needed it, for example.

These days, I still annotate my notes in various ways, but because I can use the richer set of features available in Evernote, these annotates are much more useful than they ever were in their paper form. Here are three examples of how I annotate my notes in Evernote to make life a little easier.

1. Add note links in context to quickly jump to related notes

On rare occasions, I’ll still receive a bill for something in paper. For instance, our city recently changed where it gets its water. When the change took place, I got a new “first” bill from Fairfax county. This was paper, of course, since I hadn’t yet set up auto-pay. I scanned the bill into Evernote, and then paid the bill online. After paying the bill, I clipped the receipt into Evernote using the web clipper.

What I did next was to annotate the original bill note to indicate when it was paid, and to provide a link back to the note containing the receipt.

Here is what the bill statement looks like:

Fairfax Water

You can see that just above the PDF file, I’ve made a note about when and how I paid the bill. The hyperlink is an Evernote “note link.” If I click on that link, it will take me directly to the note containing the receipt for my payment. For completeness, I also link the receipt to the note for which the payment was made. So the receipt note looks like this:

Fairfax Water Receipt

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I’ll Be at RavenCon for One Day – Saturday, April 26

I hadn’t planned to attend any science fiction conventions until later this fall, but I’ve decided to head down to RavenCon in Richmond, VA, for one day, Saturday, April 26. RavenCon was the first science fiction convention I ever attended, and it made an amazing impression on me in a very short time.

If you’ll be at RavenCon on Saturday and want to catch up or say hello, let me know, or just ping me on Twitter sometime that day.

(Later in the fall, I’ll be at Capclave and World Fantasy.)

Questions and Answers about My Blogging

A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me to ask a series of questions about my blogging. I replied with some detailed answers, and it seems to me that other people might have similar questions. Here, then, are the 8 questions I was asked and the answers I gave below in case anyone else was curious. If you have other questions about my blogging that aren’t answered below, ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

1. What was your intention when you first began blogging?

I first started blogging back in late 2005. I had kept a diary since 1996 and I think the blog became a public extension of that in order to keep up with friends and family spread all across the country. I had no real intentions beyond that.

2. When you initially started the blog, did you have any idea it would become so successful?

I think it depends on what you define as successful. As I said, my intention was to have a way of better keeping up with friends and family, and it seemed to work pretty well, so in that sense, I think it was successful. As for popular success, it wasn’t even on my radar when I started. Indeed, I was always surprised to discover that people other than friends or family read the blog.

3. Do you feel as if you’ve changed as a result of your blog, if so, how?

I think that the blog has changed me in small ways. It taught me how to think better on my feet. I’ve written over 5,500 posts in nearly 10 years, and almost all of them are written on the fly. Over time, I learned a compactness of expression1 , and developed a comfortable style. These made it much easier for me to sell nonfiction articles when those opportunities arose. It’s also helped with speaking that I do, whether its on panels or giving talks. But like I said, these are pretty small things.

4. Have the goals of your life changed since the success of your blog?

Success for a blog is always relative. As my blog became more focused on things like going paperless, writing, and automation, I think it started to become more successful. I would only use the term “successful blog” for the last 3 years. In that time the goals for my life haven’t changed much. Habits have changed, but the goals that I work toward have remained more or less the same.

5. What do you think the key ingredient is that has allowed your blog to become so successful?

Blogging is like any other kind of writing. Success is usually based on three main ingredients: hard work, some talent, and a helping of luck. I think the fact that I post regular content helps. It certainly doesn’t hurt that there is an audience that wants to read what I write. Over the last few years, I’ve narrowed the focus of what I write about and that has helped as well. Luck has also played a role. I was in the right place at the right time when it came to writing about going paperless. Evernote, for example, invited me into the founding class of their ambassador program in large part because of what I was writing about. It could just as easily have been someone else.

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Notes

  1. Although some might disagree and I won’t quarrel.

My Baseball Scorecard Shared Notebook in Evernote

Rather than inundate you all with posting my scorecards after each game, I’ve gone ahead and created a shared notebook in Evernote that contains scans of all of my scorecards from this season. Feel free to peruse them at your leisure.

Since posting my first few scorecards of the season, I’ve had a few questions about them so I figured I’d answer them here.

1. Why bother keeping score?

The short answer is because I like to. But I think there are two additional reasons. First, keeping score forces me to focus on the game as more than a casual observer. I can learn more about the game by doing this, and that increases my overall enjoyment of the game.

Second, and perhaps more important, is that keeping score makes the fan a participant in the game. I’ve long since passed the point where I could ever have a chance to play in the big leagues, but keeping score makes me an active participant in the game. I like trying to outguess the players, managers and announcers as to what the call will be, what the play will be, and what might come next.

2. How do you keep score? What method do you use?

I use Peterson’s Scoremaster scorebooks to keep score of the game. These are relatively cheap scorebooks, but have most of what I look for.

scorebook

You don’t need to go out an buy a scorebook, however. There are some downloadable scorecards available for free online.

As far as my method, well, everyone keeps score in their own way. As you might guess, I enjoy trying to capture as much information as possible in the most efficient and compact manner. I keep score in pen, using a Bic 4-color pen. Outs are scored in red and hits, walks, and other methods of getting on base are scored in blue, making it easy to distinguish. I track pitch sequence to batters, but not overall pitch counts.

There is a charming little book called The Joy of Keeping Score by Paul Dickson which covers pretty much everything you need to know about keeping score, including some history.

When the game is over, I scan my scorecards into Evernote, and as I said, I’m now keeping them in a shared notebook that anyone who wishes can look at. The full link to the shared notebook is here:

https://www.evernote.com/pub/jamietr/baseballscorecards

And now, I’ll stop inundating you with baseball scorecards and leave you in peace. Have a great Sunday!

Thoughts on A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George F. Will

I enjoyed George F. Will’s Men at Work when I read it a few years back, so I was excited to see his new book on baseball, entitled, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred. I finished the book this morning.

A Nice Little Place on the North Side by George F. Will

The book delighted me!

I describe this latest piece by Will as a book about the architecture of baseball, a theme he touches on from the very first quote in the book. What I mean by architecture is not the buildings or stadiums in which the game is played, but the superstructure of the game itself, the supporting components, in the context of the Chicago Cubs. The biggest of these supporting components is, of course, the fans themselves. The stadium is part of it, too, but there is much more. Concessions, radio, television, the lights in the stadium, everything that affects the game, but is not really the game itself.

The book contains the story of the Chicago Cubs, their triumphs (few) and struggles (many) over the last century. But it also wanders of the path to explore wonderful little trails often obscured by the game itself: for instance, the relationship between beer consumption and baseball.

Within the pages, Will provides plenty of humor, much of it at the Cubs expense (“Most teams call an 0-30 record terrible. The Cubs call it April.”), but without malice. Instead, he is attempting to communicate the frustration that generations of Cubs fans have experienced in their unfulfilled hopes of a world championship.

The book is much less about the action of the game of baseball and much more about what makes it the sport that it is, and has been, for over 150 years.  It is a delightful read and one of the best baseball books that I’ve come across, accessible to the casual fan and the true fanatic alike.

Three Jobs I Think I’d Love To Do in Professional Baseball

Aside from being, you know, a baseball player, since that ship has pretty much sailed.

  1. Announcer. There is something wonderfully appealing about getting up every day to go to the ball park and call a baseball game. A scorecard in front of you, the game spread out before your eyes, the smell of hot dogs. That would be a pretty cool job.
  2. Sports Writer. Baseball columnists and writers appeal to both the writer in my and the baseball fan and so this seems like it would be a good match for both passions.
  3. Sabermetrician. Because, you know, I like numbers.

(The Little Miss was home sick this afternoon, so while she was being her sick little self, I caught the home opener of the Washington Nationals today. They lost to Atlanta, but it was a good game.)

My Very First Story Now Has an Audio Edition

Back at the beginning of this year, IGMS: Big Book of SF Novelettes was released in paper and e-book. It contains a bunch of novelettes that appeared in the pages of InterGalactic Medicine Show and among the stories, is my very first published story, “When I Kissed the Learned Astronomer.”

That anthology recently received a stunning audiobook version courtesy of SkyBook Media. Last night, for the first time, I got to listen to a professional voice actor read one of my stories. The reading, done by Paul Boehmer, was amazing and I listened raptly to the story, as if coming to it for the first time.

The anthology (and audiobook) contain stories by Brad Torgersen, Mary Robinette Kowal, Aliette de Bodard, Eric James Stone, Orson Scott Card, and Marina J. Lostetter, among others. If you are interested in hearing what my story sounds like, you can grab a copy of the audiobook from Skybook, or Audible.

The paper and e-book versions of the anthology are available on Amazon.

400 Days of Writing

As of today, I have written for 400 of the last 402 days, beginning back on February 27, 2013. And, while there were two days that I missed since starting (both while I attended the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop last July), my streak of consecutive days of writing stands at 256 days, or seven-tenths of a year–without missing a day. The last day on which I did not write was July 21, 2013.

Some stats

256 consecutive days puts me just shy of 10% of my goal of 2633 consecutive days of writing. But 400 out of the last 402 days seems astonishing to me, when you consider that I probably hadn’t written 400 days over the previous 20 years or so that I’ve been writing.

Here is what 402 days of writing looks like:

400 Days of Writing

It amounts to a grand total of 339,000 words, and an overall average of 845 words per day. Every day. Looking at the 7-day moving average brings out some additional interesting features of my writing:

7-day moving average

Those mountain range-like spikes beginning in the fall represent the time I was working on the second draft of various stories. I tend to write more each day when I’m working on second drafts because, unlike the first draft, I’ve already told myself the story and am simply now trying to make it an interesting story for the reader.

Some thoughts on writing every day

I was asked recently if I writing every day means even writing on the days when I feel uninspired and write badly. I think the implication (although I may be reading into this) is that it shouldn’t count if you are writing just to get words down for the day. After all, if the writing is bad what is the point?

I pondered this quite a bit and have a few thoughts:

1. When I sit down to write, regardless of how tired I feel (which happens occasionally) or how uninspired I might feel (which happens far less frequently), I sit down with the intention of doing the best possible writing I can achieve. Put another way, I’m never just sitting there to put anything but the best words on the page that I can manage.

2. Writing is a stress reliever for me. When I sit down to write–more often than not in the evenings–the stresses of the day melt away as I work on my story. It may only be for 10 or 15 minutes on some nights, but I’ve found that since I started this well over a year ago, I’ve been sleeping better than I can remember at any time in the past.

3. My best isn’t always good enough. But practicing at something every day will make you better. I find it interesting that people can abide someone who practices at the piano every day, but who looked askance at a writer who writes everyday and considers it practice. Geniuses excepted, storytelling is a learned craft, one that requires just as much practice as anything else.

4. Routine is reinforcing. Baseball players are not superstitious because they believe that their quirks (not stepping on a foul line when exiting the field, tapping the bat on the plate three times when getting ready to hit, etc.) bring them luck, but because the routine of it helps to reinforce muscle memory and put their mind into the frame of concentration needed to perform their job on the field. The same is true for writing.

5. You have to do what works for you. Everyone works differently. I work well writing every day, and I only wish I’d discovered this 20 years ago instead of last year. Just because it works for me doesn’t mean it works for others. I like to think that I’ve long since matured beyond the notion that my way is the right way and everyone should be doing it this way. My way is the right way–for me. Your mileage may vary.

But back to that original question for a moment: if the writing is bad, what is the point? I’d say that when the writing is bad is when I should be writing the most. How else would I learn to improve except by writing?

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Another Yankee Loss Last Night

Like they say, it’s early in the season and the championship is never decided in April. Still, you’d like to see at least a glimmer from your team. The Yanks, while much more settled defensively than last night, seem fairly quiet at the plate, and abysmal when it comes to runners in scoring position.

Here’s my scorecard for the Yanks last in last night’s game against Houston:

Yankees Game 2 Vis

The had some hits, but only one (Beltran in the 8th) had an extra base hit. And with runners in scoring position? They basically scored when, with a runner on first and third and no one out, Solarte came up and hit into a double play, allowing Brian Roberts to score. It doesn’t even count as an RBI!

On the other hand, Houston didn’t get as many hits, but look at the hits they did get:

Yankees Game 2 Home

Second pitch of their first at-bat and Fowler hit a home run. In his next at-bat, he hits a triple, getting the two most difficult hits for the cycle out of the way in rapid order (he almost singled in the 6th).  Then there’s another triple in the 6th and another home run in the 7th. Sigh!

Hopefully the Yanks can pull things together and avoid the sweep tonight before flying up to Toronto.