Saturday, January 31, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

Finding the bones

It's getting harder to make these cuts. Little scenes I've managed to keep in until now are going to the "cuts" file. While they contain character/relationship development, they don't contain a story beat so essential that it can't be understood to have happened by a brief reference in a later scene.

Did I mention this is hard to do? The feeling in my chest is one of grief, but it's slight, and it will pass.

The total word count is around 224,000 now. Heading in the right direction at least!

One such scene, from Kindred, Copyright 2009, by Lori L. Benton

He showed her how to hold the quill, how to dip it in the gourd and slide the nib against the rim, how to stroke it across the page so the tip didn’t snag and spatter the ink. After watching her mimic the procedure with exacting care, he set his hands to his own work, allowing her to get on with it in the privacy his back afforded.

When she made a small sound of frustration, he put down the claw-and-ball foot he’d been carving and turned to check her progress. Light from the door spilled over the workbench onto her face. She looked decidedly cross. He knelt to examine the page on her lap.

Not bad for a first try. Remarkably good, in fact. A few blots and dribbles marred an otherwise passable attempt to draw a vine. It was the dark spots on her fingers that alarmed him. He grabbed her wrist as she aimed the quill at the ink gourd.


She started so violently she dropped the quill. He let her go. She rose off the stool and put the pattern book back on his work bench.

“I didn’t mean to ruin your book.”

He held out his hands, palms up. “I wasn’t scolding. Ye did fine for a first try—better than fine. It’s your hands, lass. Look at them.”

She did, and frowned. “Won’t it come off?”

He snatched a rag from the bench and dunked it in a water bucket near the door. “Sit ye back down.”

Kneeling, he took up her hand and scrubbed at her fingers. He’d been right. Her skin was too light. The ink was going to stain. He rubbed harder.

“Blast.” He looked up to find her face inches from his own. “I wasn’t thinking,” he said, still oddly unable to perform that basic function. “Your hand… my fault. It’ll fade. A few days, what with the washing…. Can ye hide it ’til it fades?”

“Reckon I’ll have to.” Her voice was a thread.

He grew aware of the warmth of her knee pressed against his ribs, and her hand in his. He was still rubbing with the rag, gently now, though the action clearly had no effect. Her breath was on his cheek. He stood abruptly.

“Tell them ye were straightening the shop for me, that the gourd tipped and spilled. I’ll say the same, if I’m asked.”

He couldn’t tell what she thought of the suggestion.

“Mister Ian?” She wouldn’t lift her eyes. “You want me to keep on drawing, or no?”

He found the leather pouch that held his carefully hoarded lead, which he used for marking wood when a chalk line wouldn’t suit. He’d purchased a few English cedar pencils before leaving Boston, but chose for her instead one of the pointed string-wrapped slips.

“Try this instead. Ye use it like a charcoal stick.”

“I know what it is.” Her voice brightened with interest. “One time—years back—Miz Rosalyn got in a temper with Miz Judith and stamped her drawing leads to pieces. Miz Judith gave me the small bits… to throw out.”

Their eyes met, in perfect understanding.

He placed the pattern book back on her lap, aware of his heart banging.

[end snip]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

From the cutting room floor

This is a small scene I snipped out today. It was meant to be a light beat between some heavier stuff. But with my word count issue in mind, I decided it wasn't pulling any story weight and so could go, despite that it's one of my darlings and I love it dearly. Wish it had been 3000 words instead of a little over 300, though!

I should see the word count at 227,000 by the end of the day. Making slow progress because I'm combing through each scene, each chapter, sometimes several times, reevaluating every dialogue tag, every adjective and phrase of description. Every conversation that could be tightened just a bit more....


Copyright 2009 Lori L. Benton

Mister Ian had torn his shirt. I could see an inch or two of skin peeking through at the shoulder as he lowered himself through the cleft of a boulder above the path. He turned to give me a hand, but I gave him the basket instead and dropped through on my own. My hands were shaking. I didn’t want him to know.

"Mister Ian, you—” I was fixed to mention his shirt, but a thrashing in the brush reached us, coming quick. We both jerked round, Mister Ian with his hunting knife drawn so fast I didn’t see him do it, my basket held like a shield. I’d caught a familiar sound mixed in with the brush-breaking, and knew what was coming a second before the Reynolds’ shoat burst from the ferns at a run.

It saw us, grunted, and streaked on by, hooves kicking up leaves and acorns, heading for our stable yard.

I groaned. Mister Ian looked at me, shaking his head in what I took for dismay, till I saw his mouth moving in little twitches. My gaze locked on the blue of his eyes, and I wasn’t seeing the man before me, but the gangly boy he’d been, full of mischief and high spirits. I felt the tug at my mouth, too.

He started to laugh… and went on laughing till he was clutching his sides and squeezing helpless tears from his eyes.

“An intractable case?” I said.

“Oh, aye—heaven help us!” He gasped for breath, wiping at his eyes. “What I’d give to see Esther’s face. Come on, lass.”

He didn’t say another word as we struck the path, but I took the sound of his laughter with me, wrapped it round me like a cloak, till somewhere betwixt that rascal shoat and the house, my shaking stopped.

[end snip]

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Teresa of Avila... and a new writing blog

I'm reading Wounded, by Claudia Mair Burney. Interesting book about stigmata. Not sure I'd have picked it up if it had been written by any other author (okay, for Francine Rivers I'd have given it a go!), but having read Burney's Zora & Nicky, and loved it to pieces, I decided to give Wounded a try. No comment yet. I'm only half-way through.

Okay, one small comment. I love the voices of her characters! It's the characters, not their situation, carrying me through this tale. I'm reading it in snatches every chance I get, setting all other books aside for the moment. No idea how it's going to turn out. That's a good thing.

I reached a part in the story where Teresa of Avila is mentioned, and a paraphrase of some of her writings and wisdom is shared by one of the main characters, Anthony. It struck such a deep cord with me this Sunday morning that I went to Googling. Here it is, from Teresa of Avila's Breviary:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away,
God never changes
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.


I also wanted to share a new Christian writers blog. Novel Matters is just getting up and going. It's a blog by seven published (or very soon to be published) authors. I look forward to what these ladies will be sharing in the weeks to come.

Check it out for yourself here.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Had a IM chat with my current beta reader today, who lives on the opposite coast from me.

She's found a spot in the story that, with some poking and prodding and turning on its head, should help me shave off quite a few thousand words.

It involves taking what happens to one of my main characters in a certain scene, and causing it to happen to a secondary character instead, with much of the same needed plot turns resulting but far less word baggage cluttering up the aftermath.

At least, that's the theory. In practice, it means a LOT of work for me, rewriting a fairly substantial section.

That's hard to hear at this stage.

But once I thought it through, and brainstormed a bit with her--what a blessing, I don't get to do that anywhere near enough with other writers--on how several small story beats could be achieved in slightly different ways, I feel this revision idea has real potential. The overall story structure remains intact, and the ripple effect of changes needing to be made from that point to The End should be reasonably minimal.

I may wind up liking the result better than what I've got now. If its leaner and faster paced, but still hits all the emotional and plot points I feel are necessary, then what's not to like?

Huzzah for insightful beta readers!

Huzzah for answered prayer!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Final Edit Update.... for now

I finished the current edit pass on Kindred this morning. While I managed to cut a total of 53,779 words (after the 71,000 I cut on the previous edit), I didn't make my SIG (Seemingly Impossible Goal) of under 200,000 words. Current word count stands at 232,819.

This just means another editing pass is needed. I have a beta reader's notes to go over. I'm going to look for more scenes to cut, or parts of scenes, since I'm sure small line-by-line cuts aren't going to add up to anything near the 33,000 words I still want to see go.

But I'm going to let it wait until tomorrow to begin. For now, I'm going to bake a cake.


With dark chocolate sauce.

Oh yes.

And while I'm at it, Lord, do another edit pass on me, please....

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I could do an edit update....

... or wait a day or two until I'm finished with this edit pass. I'm nearly there. A few more chapters to go.

I can tell you now, though, I'm not going to make my goal of under 200,000 words. Not on this edit pass. Which means... I have to do another. I can't possibly start sending this book around to agents with a word count over 200,000. I'm not sure what the reception is going to be even if I do get it slightly under 200k.

But considering my total word count was well over 300k at one point (the starting word count total I'm using for this edit update, 286k, was the total after my first edit pass), I've done a pretty amazing cutting job.

Embarrassment abounds. I'm one wordy writer chick.

So, another edit pass is in store for the next few weeks. I'm going to try to go at a faster clip. Guess I'm getting impatient to have this book done (after nearly five years of work), and get it out there and see... will God open a door for it? Is there a place for it? I have some notes from a second beta reader to go over as I do the next pass. She's marked places she thinks cuts can be made.

I hope they're brutal.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

How Things Got Done (and an edit update)

For my fellow historical writers, or anyone interested in learning how things got done in and around the house during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, have I got a book for you!

OUR OWN SNUG FIRESIDE, Images of the New England Home 1760-1860, by Jane C. Nylander (Yale University Press) is the best resource of this kind I've yet to find.

Don't let the words "New England" in the title put you off, if like me you're writing during this time period but your setting is a southern state or a frontier farm. Many of the topics covered in this book were far more widespread, such as:

How did clothes get washed?
How and how often did folk bathe?
How did they heat/clean/light/decorate their homes?
What standards of cleanliness prevailed?
How did one hire help? Or get oneself hired?
What were the work expectations placed upon each family member, at which age?
How did a newly married couple "go to housekeeping"?
What articles of clothing did a person own?
What household items were made at home, and which were bought?
When were candles made? Or soap?
When was the best time for firewood to be split?
What foods did they eat? How were they prepared, preserved and stored?
What were the first cook stoves like and how did they work?
How, when, where and with whom did they socialize?

From Library Journal: "Soon after the American Revolution, New Englanders began to idealize their rural farms and homesteads as bastions of security in a rapidly changing world. Some reminiscences stretched back to the 17th century, drawing on memories, artifacts, and a sense of history. In particular, four remarkable women cited here kept extensive journals of daily life for more than a half-century."

The book is broken up with many headers within the chapters, so finding a particular subject or passage is easy. I checked the book out at my local library, but have since ordered my own copy. I know I'll refer to it repeatedly, especially when my story does move to the northern states (which it will do in the second book, should KINDRED be published and I have reason to write on). But even with a setting in North Carolina, this book has supplied details of daily 18thC work that I'd so far missed gleaning in nearly five years of research (i.e. whittled wooden clothespins were originally called "cleft sticks." Who knew?).

And speaking of KINDRED, here's the edit update for the week:

Starting word count: 286,598
Current word count: 239,998
Down by: 46,600

Plowing through that word count like a tractor in low gear....