Thursday, May 31, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I’ve always heard authors talk about how they’ll look back at something they wrote and cringe, because they would change it so much now. I don’t think I’ll ever cringe at Cavern of Babel. It represents my best work at the time, and my best effort toward what I wanted it to be and what the publisher asked it to be. At the same time, there are certainly ways I’ve changed as a writer, and I would do some things differently now.
My biggest change in my approach would be that I would have been sure to have the book plotted out--at least generally--before I began my second draft. I’m not yet ready to say that I will always plot a book out before I write it, although I’m certainly leaning in that direction right now, but I will say that by the second draft, I plan to always know exactly how the book is going to be plotted. In other words, the first draft is often a “draft of discovery” for me. I may think the book is going to go one way, and then it goes in a different direction. This is all fine and good, but the end result of this is that sometimes the first draft can have a sort of “patchwork” feel to it. It starts out as one sort of a book, then it morphs into a second and changes into a third or fourth by the end. For me, I think it can be advantageous to let the first draft do this. In Buttersby’s case, it’s what led me to the story of the Arks and the alpaca mythology, which in turn led to Ozzy and so forth. However, when I use this technique, I’m beginning to realize how important it is to take the time and iron out the plot before I move on to the second draft. Don’t be afraid to completely lop out sections that no longer fit the book, or create new ones that will fit it better. With Babel, I believe I should have changed the beginning of the book more drastically than I did. Taking the time to look at the plot as a whole would have shown me how to do this.
I’ve always had a problem summarizing my novels to other people, and I think this is one of the main reasons why: I never took the time to step back from the story and see what it was really “about.” Understand what happens when and why. This is something I first tried with Ichabod, and now I’m applying the lessons learned to my rewrite of Lesana, and it’s going very well. There are still some bumps I’ll need to iron out in the third draft, but the story seems much more structurally sound to me now.
Anyway, that’s all I’ll say for now. I think it’s interesting to look at my writing and see how I’m changing and growing as a writer. Encouraging.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
The positive is that I got two phone interview offers, which did much to boost my self-confidence. Finally some of those job applications are actually bearing fruit. So that made me happy.
Then I found out my writing group is sort of evaporating. That made me sad. I knew that I'd have to leave when I moved, but I'd hoped I'd be able to keep participating until at least then. Now . . . that doesn't look likely.
And that's all I have to say about that.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
You know what? I've now seen the season finale of Lost, and I'm not angry at the show. It was an incredible episode--one for the ages. I'm not going to give away any spoilers--because I hate that--but just do yourself a favor and watch Lost. True, there are times now and then when one episode isn't quite as good as others, but overall, it's incredible television. And now I have to wait eight months for another fix--er . . . episode.
Anyway--I have to go pack. Bye.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Oh--and I've posted the commentary for chapter sixteen of Cavern of Babel, which includes an excerpt from the first draft, as well as a brief discussion of how my writing process works. Enjoy.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
One thing that I thought of today was how strange writing can be. Before I did my 2,000 words of writing/revision today, I was totally not wanting to do it. I felt like my story was a failure, and that none of it was working. Forcing myself to write was really hard. Then, when I finally did it, my whole mood changed. I was very pleased with the section I wrote, and I felt much more upbeat--not just about writing, but about life in general. It's just strange that this hobby of mine can have such an effect on my mood. If it goes well, I feel great. If it doesn't, I have to struggle to concentrate or really feel happy sometimes.
Anyway, the rewrite continues. I have about a quarter of the second draft done. Go me.
Monday, May 21, 2007
That is all.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
In other news, I'd just like to remind you all that I wasn't kidding about needing comments on that writing piece I put up yesterday. I don't care if you feel like you're a terrible judge of literature--read it! Tell me what you think! Are there parts where you're bored? Where you laughed? Got confused? You don't need to be a writer to be able to tell when you like or dislike something, or when you lose interest or are captivated. It's not like you can tell me "I thought this part was boring," and I can say "No you didn't." It's your opinion, and you're entitled to it. So tell me what you think--PLEASE!
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
I opened my eyes to see the walls of my bedroom shimmering with heat. Above me, a cloud of brown smoke hid the ceiling, swirling around my bed and diving into my lungs. My body shook with coughing, and I stumbled out of bed and into a crouch on the floor, hoping there might be some cleaner air down there. The carpet was steaming, probably from flames below me in the kitchen. Had it been a flashover? Why hadn’t my smoke detector worked?
At least my room hadn’t caught fire yet. Despite the shimmer to the air, it didn’t feel hot, but if I didn’t get out of there soon, I’d suffocate. Already my lungs felt starved, as if what I was breathing was doing next to nothing for me. This couldn’t be happening. Part of me kept praying it was a nightmare--just like the ones I’d always had--but I knew it wasn’t. This was too vivid.
I crawled to my door and put up a hand to open it, then paused and simply touched it first. Elementary school had drilled into me the idea that I should feel a door handle before I opened it, and mine was cool to the touch. Normal. There was a draft of air coming in from under the door, but that was all. The fire had to be all downstairs. But then, why was there this much smoke? It didn’t matter. Flickers of light were flashing at the edge of my vision, and I felt like I hadn’t gotten any air since I had woken up--as if I’d been holding my breath the whole time. I had to get out.
As soon as I opened the door, everything around me disappeared in a blast of fire and noise. It felt like a linebacker crashed into me from behind, hurling me forward out of my room, my face crashing into the hall wall opposite my door. When I could think again, my mouth was full of blood. It felt like I had split my lip wide open and broken my nose.
It wasn’t until I had blinked a few times--my eyes stinging and tearing in the smoke--and cleared my head that I saw I was sitting in the middle of an inferno. My lungs were breathing in smoke, but it still felt better than it had in my room. Orange and red flames licked the walls all around me, as if they had just been waiting for me to open the door and let them in. I knew what that was: a backdraft. A fire gets deprived of oxygen and stops combusting, but still maintains the heat. When oxygen comes back--by a door opening, for example--the fire literally explodes back into life. But if it had been a backdraft, I should have been burned to a crisp right now.
Instead, I wasn’t even sweating. I looked down.
My t-shirt and shorts were burning.
Stop, drop and roll. This was the reason I had always read up on what to do in fires. The room spun around in a tight circle, the flames blurring into orange streaks as I tried to put out my clothes. Was my skin too badly damaged? Had the nerve endings been fried again? Was I in shock? Even as I rolled, I couldn’t stop coughing. The air smelled like a campfire, and I could taste the smoke as it poured down my throat with each breath.
I was still in my tumbling routine when I saw a face next to my mine. Black helmet, clear gas mask: a firefighter. I coughed twice more, then felt my vision going dim. It was as if my body, seeing help arrive, had decided to give up on me. The last thing I remembered was the firefighter leaning over me, and then I blacked out.
Consciousness came back slowly, in stages. At first there was nothing, and then my hearing returned, although I for the first while I didn’t really understand what was being said. It was like my brain was hazy.
“--we going to tell him?” My dad’s voice.
Mom answered. “There’ll be time for it after a while. Let’s just be sure he’s okay before we make any plans. And if he doesn’t remember anything about it, then we don’t need to bring it up.”
“What about your mother?” Dad said. “Shouldn’t we at least--”
“No. We don’t talk about her. The less he knows, the better. Maybe if he’s not reminded, he won’t--wait. He’s moving.”
My eyelids opened and I saw I was sitting in a hospital bed. No tubes or anything sticking out of me, so I couldn’t have been in that bad of shape. The room was lit with fluorescent light, which made both of my parents seemed pale and worn, an effect made even more pointed by the ash smudges at the edge of both their faces. They’d clearly tried to clean themselves up, and even more clearly hadn’t done a great job of it.
“Tomas?” Mom said. She came over to the bed and put her hand on my forehead. Mom was thin and tall, and even with no sleep and tired eyes, she still managed to look in control, with her hair pulled back in a pony tail and her back straight. “How are you feeling?”
I blinked, and my thoughts started to click together. “The house. What happened?”
Dad swallowed before answering. “It’s gone. The firefighter’s response was quick, but . . . there was nothing they could do.”
What could I say in response to that? The scene flashed through my mind again: the smoke, the smells. Fire eating the hallway, cracking the glass in picture frames. “Everything?”
“Everything but us,” Dad said. “And that’s all that really matters, right?”
We were all quiet after he’d said that. I don’t think any of us really believed it. My mind conjured up images of the living room engulfed in flames, the kitchen--my computer, our movie collection, Mom’s recipe books from her grandmother. Dad spoke up again.
“I--I’m sorry, Tomas.”
I stared at him. “For what? Did you start the fire?”
He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair, something he only did when he was stressed. “No. We don’t know how that happened, but I should have been there for you. We were running late on our date, and when we got home, the fire was already in full force. The neighbors had called it in, and your mom and I rushed in to try and get to you, but the firemen stopped us. It was so hot. I couldn’t . . .” He trailed off, his throat practically convulsing as he kept swallowing. He pushed his glasses up his nose, and for a moment, he seemed like a stranger. Middle aged, slightly overweight and completely powerless. No one likes to see his dad look like that.
“It’s okay, Dad,” I said. I wanted to make him feel better. “You’re not supposed to go into a house fire, no matter what. That’s one of the first rules of dealing with fires. And like you said, I’m fine. No worries.”
He nodded, but didn’t say anything in response. Mom looked at both of us, her face lined with concern.”
I turned to her, giving Dad some time to think. “What happened?” I asked. “I could have sworn I was in the middle of the blaze. How am I not hurt?”
A voice spoke from the doorway. “That’s what we’d like to know, too.” A doctor entered, replete in full doctor-in-a-hospital regalia. He even had his clipboard, which he switched to his other hand as he walked over to me and shook my hand. “I’m Dr. Geld. Glad to see you up and awake again.”
“How long have I been out?” I asked.
He smiled. “About eight hours. Enough time for us to get some oxygen into you, get you back into working condition and for your body to get the rest it needed to recover. You inhaled a lot of smoke, but you’re going to be fine. Do you remember much of what happened last night?”
I shook my head. “Not much. I woke up with my room covered in smoke, but it wasn’t hot. When I opened my door . . . something blew up. I hit my head . . .” I had been surrounded by fire. The temperature inside a burning house can get as hot as 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. The average is 1200. Crematories burn at about 1600 degrees. These were facts I had known since I was seven. I glanced down at my old burn scar that covered all of my right arm and then some, turning my skin mottled and rippled, like a melted candle. Knowing about fire was supposed to have kept me safe from it in the future.
Dr. Geld cleared his throat, calling me back to attention. “Yes,” he said. “Well that explains some of it. The firefighter said he found you out in the hall by your bedroom. His guess had been that you had been involved in a backdraft, with your room being the focal point. But since you say the temperature inside wasn’t too high--and your body thankfully confirms that for us--we’ll have to just say you’re an extremely lucky young man.”
Lucky? To have fire ruin my life twice, when most people never have to deal with it at all? “Yeah,” I said. “Lucky.”
“Right,” Dr. Geld said, and made a couple of notes on his clipboard. “I did have one question for you--or your parents. We ran a few basic tests to make sure your son was alright. There seems to be some extensive scarring in his lungs. Healed already--we think--but if you could just confirm--”
“He was in an accident when he was little,” Mom said. “He almost drowned. The scars are from then.”
Dr. Geld frowned and flipped through his papers “From drowning? I would have thought it had come from when he was originally burned. The charts--”
“It happened at the same time,” I said. I was sick of people always tiptoeing around it. “When I was six, I almost drowned, and they found me with third degree burns on my right arm and side of my torso. It’s on my records, if you’d get them from my doctor.”
“Oh,” the doctor said. I knew what he was thinking: how does someone get third degree burns while they’re drowning? I didn’t know the answer. “Well in that case,” he continued, “I’m happy to say I can give you a clean bill of health. You’re free to check out whenever you want to.” There was another round of hand shaking, and then he left us.
“Free to check out,” I said after an uncomfortable pause. “Check out to where?”
“Well,” Dad said. “Your mother and I have been talking about that, and we think we have a sort of plan thought out. The first part’s easy. We already have reservations at a local hotel for tonight. We’ll take a taxi over when you’re ready to move--”
“A taxi?” I said.
“The . . . uh . . .” Dad paused. “The car was in the garage.”
“Oh,” I said. “Of course.”
“Anyway,” he continued. “We’ll take a taxi over and stay there for the next couple of days while we try and get everything back in order. I’ve already talked to the library. They’re being very understanding.”
Mom and Dad had already thought everything through. That was a relief. It was at times like these that I was glad I had parents. “Good,” I said. “Then what? We go house hunting?”
Dad and Mom exchanged glances, and it was Mom who answered. “That’s the thing. We’ve been on the phone with the insurance agent, and it wasn’t all good news.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Housing costs have skyrocketed in the last few years,” Mom said. “And . . . well, your father and I weren’t as on top of keeping our insurance up to date as we should have been.”
I stared at them. Insurance? “What do you mean?”
“It means we were under-insured,” Dad said. “Pretty badly.”
That wasn’t making things any clearer for me. Mom explained. “To buy another house like the one we had would cost about four hundred thousand dollars. We were only insured for two hundred, and that includes all our belongings.”
“But that’s what insurance is for, right?” I said. “To pay you back for all the stuff you lost. Don’t the insurance people make sure you’ve done things right? Or the bank--what about them? They probably--”
“It’s complicated, Tomas,” Dad said. “But trust me, we already looked into it, and I’m going to look into it a lot more before we do anything final, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore what is a very real possibility. Moving.”
“We can’t afford to live in this area any more,” Mom said. “Not on our savings. The insurance money will pay off our loans and even give us some money to work with, but not enough. So your father and I can either commute to work, or . . .”
“Or we could try something a little more drastic,” Dad finished.
“Drastic?” I said.
Dad nodded. “How would you feel about moving to Slovakia?”
I gaped. They hadn’t let me go back to Slovakia since I was six and had the accident. They hardly even talked to me about the place, despite it being where we’d lived for three years, and where Mom had grown up. “Really?” I said.
Mom glanced and Dad, then said, “Yes. Our savings would go much further there, and we’d be able to keep our standard of living without much loss. It’s something we’ve thought about doing for years, but there was always a reason to stay in America. Now . . . Your Uncle Lubos said he could probably have a job arranged for me fairly easily. He knows someone at an ESL school, and they’ve been looking for quality teachers.”
“What about Dad?”
“I could try writing again,” Dad said. “That’s what I wanted to do before. At Slovak prices, even a moderate American sale would be as good as a full time job. I know you’re in the middle of high school and it wouldn’t--”
“I’ll do it,” I said.
That caught both of them off guard. “Are you sure you don’t want to--” Mom started.
“I don’t need to think about it. You guys want to do it, and it’s not like I’d be leaving anything great here. What’s to lose?”
Dad looked at Mom again, then cleared his throat and turned back to me. “What do you remember about Slovakia?”
I shrugged. “Not much. I was six. There were a lot of trees, and there was a playground near our house. That’s about it.”
“You don’t remember anything strange?” Mom said.
“No,” I said. “I hardly remember anything at all.”
Mom and Dad looked at each other yet again. It felt like they were debating telling me some life-altering secret. “What is it?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Mom said.
Dad’s shoulders slumped in what looked like relief, and he actually smiled. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “We can talk more later.”
“One more thing, though,” I said. “When I was still out of it, were you guys talking about Babka?” Babka’s what we called my mom’s mom. She’d been dead since my mom was a teenager.
Mom looked at me blankly. “No. Why?”
Maybe I had been more out of it than I knew. Or maybe Mom was lying. I looked over at Dad, who was fiddling with his cell phone. Now probably wasn’t the time to push for answers. “I thought I heard you say something about her,” I said. “It must have been a dream or something.”
“You’ve been through a lot,” Mom said and smiled. Her face looked like it had gotten some new wrinkles on it since last night at dinner. “Things will get better.”
Dad spoke up. “Right now, we need to see about getting to the hotel and restoring some semblance of order to our lives. Let’s get you dressed. Mom went out and got you some new clothes.”
Of course. My entire wardrobe had gone up in the blaze. The memory of my t-shirt and shorts smoldering on my skin came back in a flash as I sat up. “Dad,” I said. “My clothes were burning. I remember that. How is it that I’m not touched?”
He paused while taking out some jeans from a plastic bag, then looked at me and shrugged. “I really don’t know. All I can say is that it must have been a miracle, and that’s all the explanation we’re likely to ever get.”
It wasn’t. I understood it all eventually, but that explanation didn’t come until I’d been in Slovakia for a while.
Thanks again for reading and for any suggestions. They are much appreciated.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Writing's going well. I'm actually into the real rewrite of Lesana now, and I've just finished writing two brand new chapters, after having chopped the previous first two chapters. I think they're an improvement, but sometimes it's hard to tell. No one's read this new version, so I guess I'll have to wait and see what readers say once they get it.
And my garage is clean, so I got that going for me, which is nice.
(Bonus points to any of you who recognize the pop culture reference above.)
Friday, May 11, 2007
So often movie stars seem removed from the rest of the public. I just thought it was cool to see one actually just put himself out there and start talking. Of course, it's since been deluged with questions and comments for him, but for a while--when he was still pretty much "unproved" he was able to talk about things he felt like talking about. Check the original discussion here if you want, but don't say I didn't warn you about the language. Willis is "Walter B," and his posts are in black.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Not much else going on, really. My Warlock on Nathrezim is up to level 30, and that feels like a nice accomplishment--which it really ought not to, I suppose. Oh well--if nothing's going on in your real life, at least something can be going on in the one where you're an undead master of demons. ;-)
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
And I've also successfully put up an Amazon author profile, which took a bit of figuring out to do. My picture is rather small and ratty, but when I get a chance, I'll update that, as well. If you'd like to check it all out, just go to Cavern of Babel's listing here. Any of you who have read Cavern of Babel and would like to write an Amazon review, please feel free.
And to top off all the good news, the AC at work is fixed, and it was actually pleasant to be there today. What a relief.
Monday, May 7, 2007
In other news, I found out today that university library jobs take a looooong time to make hiring decisions. I read an article about how it can regularly be six months--and a year isn't out of the question. Sigh. I guess I should be more patient. That's all I have time for for now. Bye.
Friday, May 4, 2007
In other news, my replotting of Lesana is going nicely. I'm approaching the point where I have a fairly good outline. Next, I'll work on fleshing it out to make sure I know what I'm doing before I go into the rewrite. But so far, so good.
I just finished watched Oliver & Company with my son. This was a movie I saw back in the theaters as a kid when it was released. I enjoyed it then, and I'm happy to say I still enjoy it, although the quality of the animation left a bit to be desired. A fun take on Dickens' Oliver story.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Not much else happening right now. I'm just enjoying being at home, where the temperature is NOT 93 degrees. In fact, I think I should make that one of my new life goals. Never work in a place that's 93 degrees inside. Honestly, aren't there labor laws that enforce that? There ought to be.