"We pick bygone time up by the handfuls and, like clay, see if it feels right and then form it into stories about the past." ~ James Alexander Thom, The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Between edits

My weekend off from writing, editing and (mostly) thinking about Kindred was refreshing. So nice to dust off those rusty far-right-brained skills with 6-7 hours of pencil drawing, the preliminary step for a painting.

Our frequent hikes around Lost Creek Lake have inspired me to do a series of intimate wildlife portraits--birds, small mammals, maybe an owl or two, nestled in settings richly carpeted in lichen and moss, so typical of the wetter west sides of our Oregon mountains. I've got Manzanita Stump and Deer Mouse underway. It's a tiny corner of the outdoors. Years ago I painted sweeping landscapes and large dramatic animals--wolves, bears, cougars, coyotes. These days I'm drawn to songbirds and small rodents. Wonder what that says? Humbled ambitions, maybe?

Since the weekend I've completed a synopsis and query letter, back cover copy and a few one liners (or promotional sentences) for Kindred. It's good to have a working template for the query and synopsis. I'm letting them sit now, and will look at them again, and polish them, when I'm ready to start submitting proposals and queries.

The manuscript needs more attention first. It's still too long at 206,000 words, and there are some content issues that need addressing. I've made a careful list of threads and themes that need beefing up in order to earn the pay off in the second half of the book.

My plan: a hard copy edit next. I tend to see things in hard copy that I miss while reading from the computer.

I'm letting the story cool off this week. I'll start the next edit on Monday. I'll still look for places to trim back, but I'm also going to add where needed, too. Not anticipating a lot of adding, though--or else I'll just pray that sufficient cuts can still be made to counter it!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Lori Benton's Weekend Off

Yesterday I finished the current edit/word slash on Kindred. On Monday I plan to begin a hard copy read through, for polishing, further cutting, and attending to themes/threads/set-ups/other aspects of the first half of the book that need strengthening, to earn the pay off in the second half.

Word count for Kindred count stands at 206,600 (unless I save it as a text only file and do a word count, and that loses me another 1100 words, which I think is pretty cool).

I'm not discouraged at not reaching my goal, just worn thin. My prayer is "Lord, give me vision for fine-tuning, trimming, shaping Kindred. I want You to be glorified, I want to touch readers with something of You in the lives of Seona and Ian, so You need to be in this every step of the way, and put Yourself onto those pages in spite of my limitations, my tiredness, my shallowness, and my easily befuddled mind. I'm absolutely certain You are able to do exceedingly abundantly above all I could ask or think. Bethankit...."

I'm taking the weekend off. I'm going to keep praying that prayer, and I'm going to rest, and read (read, read, read!), and do something I've not done nearly enough of in years... I'm going to draw and maybe even paint. Aside from prayer, I'm not going to think about Kindred, or open a file, or meddle with a synopsis, or agent searching, or query writing, or market research, or stress over the fact that I still haven't reached my goal of under 200,000 words.... starting now.

Ahhhh..... I think it's just what I needed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Word count update (or downdate.....)

Still researching agents, getting my brain in gear to write two or three versions of the synopsis (because every agent just about wants one at a different length), the query letter and of course, I'm still editing the Beast.

Down to 211,000 words. From an original 300,000+ (286,000 after the first edit; 232,819 after the second).

Making slow progress. After this line by line, I'll have to start yanking out more scenes. Not that I haven't been already, but I left a few in that I really hoped I wouldn't have to remove. But I'm determined not to start submitting this book while it's over 200,000 words.

Because that number 2 is so bright a green* that I'm afraid it's all the agents will see, and won't give the story a chance.

*Doesn't everyone see the number 2 as being green?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

And another one's gone

A scene I snipped out today. I rather liked this grumpy ferryman, but had whittled down his part in the story to this one scene, which, upon reflection, I decided to summarize in a couple of sentences instead, for pacing's sake.

Except I rescued one small passage and inserted it elsewhere, because I liked it too dang much. Guess you'll have to read the book one day to know which bit it is. God willing!

Another interesting tidbit. I learned today that the most accurate word count can be taken from a text only (.txt) document, rather than a Word document or Rich Text Format (.rtx) file. So I saved a copy of the manuscript in .txt format and did a word count. And promptly lost 1100 words. Nice.

KINDRED
Copyright 2009 Lori Benton

[I post a copyright on the outtakes because, yanno, this is a work in progress, and some of this stuff may end up back in the final draft.]

“… raisin’ a ruckus afore dawn-break… hollerin’ fit ter wake ol’ Scratch hisself.”

Ian, holding fast to Ruaidh’s bridle, caught snatches of the grumbles emanating from the rumpled figure sharing the deck of the river ferry. It wasn’t the ferryman who poled him across the Yadkin last time. This fellow, older, puffy-jowled and stumpy, hunched his fleshy head, obliterating any hint of neck, dug the pole into the river’s bed, and waddled backward the length of the ferry to push it along. As the vessel creaked along its guide rope, a pair of bulging eyes peered at Ian over a woolen muffler.

Ian pushed his hat down on his head. He’d reached the ford long after nightfall, too late to cross by ferry, and at first light had shouted himself hoarse before the squat figure emerged from a cabin across the river and came to fetch him over.

“Out in this pea-soup afore me fire’s stoked… or me breakfast et.”

Ignoring the man, Ian peered ahead to the landing, or what could be seen of it—a post lantern, its yellow flame haloed in the mist lying thick across the river bottom. The small craft jerked, caught by the current as the ferryman paused to pole away some floating debris, sending it spinning out into the swirl of brown. Ruaidh tossed his head and shied.

“Steady yer horse!” the ferryman croaked, sparing Ian a jaundiced eye. “Ain’t from nigh here, are ye?”

"I’m from… a way off, aye.” Scotland, he might have said, or Boston. The northern frontier. A hill-farm just over the Carraways. Each answer balanced on his tongue, yet none tasted of truth. Too long he’d been borne on a current of circumstances, little more resisting than the bit of debris now on its way downriver. Then he looked ahead at the shimmer of light beckoning the ferry to shore, and he knew. It was Seona. She was the place his soul had anchored.

The ferryman passed again, his gaze on Ruaidh. “Looks like one of them ponies what the tribes breed, yonder in the Tennessee. You some sort of backwoods trader? Trapper? Indian agent?”

Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor. The old rhyme ran through Ian’s mind. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief…. Aye, if forced to it.

With a jolt, the ferry scraped bottom. The ferryman coiled a rope around a post and jumped to shore. While he tied off the ferry and lowered the gangplank, Ian slipped the knots in the cross-ties and led Ruaidh onto solid ground. “Ye wouldn’t have ferried a peddler across late yesterday?” he asked the man, who took the lantern from its post and made for the cabin. Ian caught him up, leading Ruaidh up the muddy rise to the Salisbury road.

The man paused at the track to his cabin. “By chance, were a peddler hollered for me nigh to suppertime. Had hisself a wagon, mule-drawn. Talkative chap. Like to chewed my ear off—”

“German?” Ian broke in.

“By his speech.”

“And a wee fellow?”

“Eh?” The ferryman lifted his head—which barely reached the center of Ian’s chest—to look him up and down. “S’ppose you’d call him so. Good day to ye!”

And with that he shuffled off, disappearing into the cabin’s depths like a burrowing toad.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Query Letter

I'm starting to work on my agent query letter this week. The web is littered with query how-to pages, mostly found on writer's, agent's, and publisher's sites.

Good posts on writing agent queries can be found at agent Nathan Bransford's blog--which any writer will benefit from reading, if he or she isn't already doing so. Mr. Bransford is very entertaining, as well as informative.

An editor is presently looking at the first three chapters of KINDRED, but I'm going to query agents soon, regardless of how that turns out.

A lot of writers dread the query letter. I don't. I've written three or four of them in the past. They led to requests for partials and full manuscripts, one for a historical, another for a contemporary romance, both written in the 90s.

Queries are fun to write. A challenge, but fun. I'm looking forward to the submission process. I know there will be rejection. Probably lots of that. But I do so very much want this book finished and out of the nest now.

My brain cells are itching to tackle a new project, while this one flies the wide earth over, looking for a place to roost.

A minor rant, and a Prologue

My husband is a computer tech. He's been trying to convince me to switch from Word to Open Office, which is free, works very much like Word and isn't updated every five minutes by Microsoft. Yesterday I said, "Fine, load it and let me check it out."

He did, I did, and I had no problem with it... until I copied KINDRED and saved it as a Word compatible OO file. And did a word count. Just to see, ye ken?

OO added a little over 4000 words to the total word count. I checked everything I could think of between the two identical files, one in Word, one in Open Office, to account for this discrepancy. For the life of me I can't figure out where OO is picking up those extra words. Cutting 4000 words at this point is not a piece of cake. I do NOT appreciate OO willy-nilly adding them on!

Be that as it may... :) The 2008 Genesis contest is long over now, so I thought it high time to re-post my prologue and opening chapter.

KINDRED
Copyright 2009 Lori Benton

Prologue

Mama was the first of Mountain Laurel’s slaves to know about the letter. Before Master Hugh posted it away north to a place called Boston, he called Mama from her spinning and he read that letter to her.

Master Hugh hadn’t done such a thing even once that I know of since he married Miz Lucinda. Before she came, Master would sometimes let Mama hear his words set down, before he sealed the wax and the post rider came and off they went to wherever they was bound. Mama never said what she made of being called in like that after so long, but that’s how we came to know early on that Master Hugh was asking his half-brother to send his youngest son to North Carolina.

Master Hugh’s nephew came here once before, though he never paid me no mind that I can recall. He was twelve years old then, the age a boy—whatever color his skin—starts fancying himself a man, and won’t suffer being reminded he’s still next door to a child.

Me, I was half his years, a slave, and what was surely worse, a girl. I was of no nevermind to the master’s kin. But he was to me.

Even now I can close my eyes and see him as he was, tall for his age and skinny as a pine rail, eyes the color of a jay’s wing, and hair like the flax Mama spins for Master Hugh. It was on account of that flax-pale hair I made my first picture—hiding under the kitchen lilacs while I scratched his likeness on a piece of broken slate. I rubbed it out and hid that slate before anyone could catch me with it.

I’ve made many pictures since that day, but only one of him, drawn on a scrap of that old paper Miz Lucinda had us strip off the parlor walls the week she came to Mountain Laurel. It shows him looking off to the side, with that moonbeam hair curling over his brow like the halo of an angel.

No one has laid eyes on it but me. Not even Mama.

Every slave keeps to their heart a secret. This one is mine.

[end]