You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2010.

I have been remiss. I attended Bouchercon (big mystery writers/readers conference) in San Francisco way back in October, and have not recorded it here.

This is the Hyatt Regency. Snazzy! I love the elevators.

This is Carla Buckley, my awesome roommate. I saved reading her novel The Things That Keep Us Here for the plane ride. Scary, emotional story about the effect of a bird flu pandemic. Every time someone in the cabin sneezed I tensed up. (Didn’t help that there was big bird flu sign up at the airport!)

This is Randall, my wonderful editor, at the Random House party at the Water Bar. I like fancy parties 🙂

This is Sara Paretsky’s autograph line after our panel on “Suspense.” This is a debut author’s rite of passage: the long, long lines for the icons, the unobstructed view from one’s own signing table ;-D


Things I can’t get in England that I miss:

1) Large containers of pain relievers. Because large bottles of headache medicine can be used for suicide, they’re forbidden. You can only get these tiny packs, and even then only buy one at a time. I’m curious to know if this actually reduces suicide; if it does, then of course my inconvenience is nothing in comparison. But it really is annoying to have to go out shopping with a headache because someone else in the house had a headache last week! Solution, of course, is to stock up every time one goes shopping. (Real solution: stock up in the States 😉

2) Cheap pens. Man, pens are super expensive here.

3) Pocket folders. You know what I mean: a folder that opens like a book, and has a pocket on each side? To hold papers? Well, you know what I mean if you’re American. In Ryman’s and other shops here I’ve only been able to find folders without pockets (which everything will just fall out of), or pockets that aren’t folders (just big giant pockets). How can they not have pocket folders? I have such happy memories of buying fresh Trapper Keepers every fall…

4) Springy sponges. Typical UK sponges fall apart very quickly. Large-pored US sponges last a long time and kind of spring back into shape when you squeeze the water out of them. My mother brings them when she visits us because she helps out with the dishes and can’t stand the UK ones. Neither can I! Mom, now you know what I want for Christmas 😉

Open Office is driving me crazy. Or maybe Word is driving me crazy. I use Open Office, but most of the annoyances therein are the result of imitating Word, so maybe this is too.

So I select, say, a sentence, and delete it by typing a replacement sentence. That, to me, is a single action. If I “undo” it, I want the new sentence to go back to being the old sentence. One action. Maybe two, if you want to count the addition of the new sentence as an action, and the deletion of the old sentence as another action.

But no! Open office treats EVERY WORD AND EVEN SPACES AS SINGLE ACTIONS. Not kidding. One sentence can require something like 10 or 20 separate undos. A paragraph can require so many undos that the history runs out and I can’t get to the point of getting the previous sentence/para back (because it only comes back when you undo the very first letter of the replacement).

C’mon, people. This is ridiculous. At best, it should use the same technology my cheap cell phone does. When I text (which is rare; I loathe texting), my phone recognizes that three quick clicks on the 2 button means the letter C, while three clicks with waiting in between each means AAA. Why can’t Open Office consider a sentence banged out quickly with no pausing as a single action? That really seems sensible to me.

I recently completed an epic restructuring of my current manuscript. These are some of the stages:

File cards:

I put every scene on a file card, color-coded to its narrator, and then reorganized them.


I put the new reorg into a booklet, one chapter per page, listing the scenes in each chapter, and everything I wanted to revise.


I charted every subplot and character arc, indicating which chapters furthered them. (I transferred that info into the booklets as well.)


I played with Lego to map a key building. (Confession: the Lego in this photo is of the models *after* our five-year-old rearranged them. So glad I copied the arrangement onto paper shortly after I constructed it!)

Hand edit:

Print out, my booklets, my map, and a red pen.

And that’s how it’s done!

I find it hard to switch between writing mode and other modes.

When I have “writing time” not all of that is spent actually writing. Much of it is spent transitioning into a writing frame of mind.

I used to feel guilty, like I was using up my writing time with not writing, but I have come to recognize it as a part of the process. I need to decompress, move out of whatever mode I’m in, and get my head in the right place. Once I do that, then usable writing can come out of it.

A friend-of-a-friend wrote asking me about how to fit writing in with work and family. He described his writing times separated by other obligations as “islands.” What a wonderful metaphor! He asked me “Any advice on how to write from island to island of time?” and this is what I said:

“The hardest part of such island-hopping for me is transitioning into “writing mode.” That transition takes time, and I finally learned to not feel guilty when my “writing time” includes surfing the web, watching a recorded TV show, and/or playing a computer game. These activities (played while jotting notes and mulling story problems) help me move into a different state of mind. I’ve adjusted my expectations to include these activities. A four-hour writing time will frequently play out as 2.5 hours recreation simultaneous with note-taking, problem-solving, and scene sketching–then an hour or so of actual writing. Usually, the writing done in this way is “keeper” writing, so for me that is well worth it. Word-count targets help keep me on track, so I don’t abuse this latitude.

“I’ve also come to accept that there are stages in novel creation besides writing. Plotting, for example, is progress that doesn’t result in word count. Research, too. Brainstorming. I try to recognize the stage I’m in, and what I want to accomplish, so that I can recognize productivity that doesn’t involve words. A self-imposed, long-view schedule keeps reins on how long I linger in any stage.

“The most helpful thing has been that my husband staggered his work hours to start at noon so he could look after the kids in the morning while I write. For most families, this isn’t an option. I also work late when necessary, occasionally all night, and set the alarm when necessary, for early writing.

“External deadlines help. For my first book, for which I of course had no deadline, I aimed for entering a contest and worked toward its deadline. That kept me on track when I was tempted to slack.”

Turns out that I also have “email mode.” I go through long periods of reading email, answering only the time-sensitive ones. Then periodically I answer all the accumulated mail in a big go. I used to feel guilty about this as well, but I’m gradually accepting that emailing in slow motion is just how I roll. I get to it all eventually. (I think. I do try. To anyone who’s ever been forgotten by me: forgive!!)

(Turns out I have blogging mode too 🙂 Check out the date on all the recent posts. They’ve been on my mind for many weeks, but today’s the day for getting them out there!)

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."