Friday, June 30, 2006

The throwaway draft...

Cynthia does this thing where she will write an entire first draft of a novel manuscript and then throw it away. She'll then do a new draft, which will be her true "first" draft. (When she talks about this to writers' groups, she gets audible gasps of horror).

I don't tend to do this, but I do think that writers should be prepared to perform major surgery on manuscripts, i.e., not fall so in love with what they've written that they fail to recognize when major portions aren't working and likely will never work. I did something similar with TOFU AND T.REX, but not intentionally. I'd sent my editor a manuscript I wasn't happy with, but was not in a place where I could see (or was willing to see)what needed to be done. My editor at the time sent me a letter which basically identified in a coherent manner the things I didn't like and thought weren't working. After editing, the only thing that remained from the first version I sent my editor to the eventual published version was the interview scene at the Brandenburgs. About ten pages. Note that the version I'd sent my editor was far more polished than your usual "first draft."

At the early stages of drafting, I do have a "viability threshold." Basically, I find it very easy to write the first thirty pages of a novel. I have several manuscripts based on great ideas that are about 30-35 pages long. Great introductions, but the stories never went anywhere, or just went badly. Usually, the problem is the plot, but sometimes it's the characters. In the earliest version of the manuscript that yielded something that went into NINJAS, PIRANHAS, AND GALILEO, there was a character who was so annoying that I had him throw himself in front of a train. A moving train. It didn't miss.

Anyway, I'm very happy that my first (approximate) draft of my new WIP, RM, came in at about 110 pages. It's not the complete story, but enough that I know what's likely to work and what's not. Also, unlike in TOFU, I'm keeping several of the scenes; I am utterly deleting two major sub-plots, though. They just didn't pass the "cringe-test" (Things fail the test if, after letting the manuscript sit for a couple weeks, they cause me to literally cringe or recoil upon re-reading.).

Looking forward to this weekend and drafting new scenes...

Thursday, June 29, 2006


We live in a very odd world: Tomorrow, President and Mrs. Bush are flying Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan to Graceland on Air Force One. The Prime Minister apparently shares a birthday with the King; his brother once ran the Elvis fan club in Yokohama. Priscilla and Lisa Marie will be the tour guides. For more on Graceland, check out the official site here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


KING DORK, by Frank Portman. Delacorte Press (2006)(ages 14+).

Tom Henderson, more commonly known as "Chi-Mo" to others and to himself as "King Dork," is, well, a guitar-playing dork trying to form a band with his best friend. When his English teacher assigns (of course), CATCHER IN THE RYE, Tom discovers a copy his deceased father had when he was a teen. The copy is marked up with mysterious messages, and Tom finds himself more or less obsessed with decoding the thing (in part because he's never felt any connection to the man, and in part because he is, after all, a complete dork). This leads him to read more books his father left behind and also to the mystery of how his father really died, as well as some insights into "attracting semihot girls."

KING DORK is hilarious. Portman skillfully skewers the Baby Boomers' obsession with THE CATCHER IN THE RYE while portraying a modern teen dealing with what a generation raised on that book has wrought. Professor Nana likes the names Tom and his friend come up with for the band; for my part, I love the pithy characterizations of the books referenced (e.g., LORD OF THE FLIES is "... like Hillmont High School meets Gilligan's Island, except that the goons in charge are prissy English schoolboys intead of normal redblooded American alpha psychopaths.").

Monday, June 26, 2006

Over the weekend...

It was a weekend of conferencing. Friday night's keynote for the TSRA Summer Leadership Conference was a blast and my speech on Humor in Multicultural Literature was well-received. Basically, I started with a speech Cyn and I had done at Reading the World a few years back and updated it with some more recent thoughts on the nature of humor and comedy.

Saturday, Cynthia and I spoke at the The Writer's League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference; our breakout session was basically an introduction to, and overview of, children's and YA literature. (Most of the attendees were from the "adult" realm, and so were unfamiliar with children's and YA). We went early to hear the panel with Kathi Appelt, Anne Bustard, Chris Barton, and Mark Mitchell.

We usually don't hang out that much with those involved in the adult end of the industry. The attendees seemed somewhat more anxious than those at, say, SCBWI conferences, but that might be because they were tense about having to "make the pitch." (They do this thing where I guess you have ten minutes with some agent to pitch your book).

Also, oddly, not only was the food the same at the airport Hilton and the Marriott downtown, but the presentation was identical, too: chicken breast with green beans, with the chicken breast artfully angled on top of potatoes or wild rice pilaf.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Novel Research

Last weekend, Cynthia and I went down to Kingsville for research on my WIP. We took this great four hour tour of the King Ranch and explored downtown Kingsville, including the King Ranch Museum. It was great fun, and we saw a lot. Invaluable stuff, for the WIP. Then we went up to Corpus and explored the Aquarium, but decided it was too hot and windy to go up on the U.S.S. Lexington.

So I came back energized, full of all sorts of research info I can plug into the new novel. First,though, Cyn and I have a couple of speaking gigs. Tomorrow night, I am giving a keynote for the Texas State Reading Association Summer Leadership Conference. Then, Saturday, Cyn and I are doing a breakout at the Writers' League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference.

Incidentally, don't you love the way the "ou" in "four hour tour" can be pronounced three ways?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

It's 100 degrees and we've got A/C!

We went through a bit of difficulty late last week when we lost central air for the second floor, so we pulled a futon downstairs and have been sleeping in the sun room. (The cats have been very confused). Yesterday, we had a new system installed (took about six hours and several small piles of gold). Our house didn't actually get central air conditioning until around the early 80's -- I can't imagine living in Austin without it.

But, of course, one of the things people have been doing in Austin since time immemorial in the summer when it's purgatorially hot is to head down to the Barton Springs Pool. Now, thanks to something called the Outdoor Wireless Mesh Project, in addition to such normal poolside staples as sunblock, towel, sunglasses, and cash, you will also need to remember your laptop computer.

But only if it's waterproof.

And if you can read the screen on the 300+ days per year of sunshine we get down here.

I hate to say this, because I kind of like technology, but I think if you absolutely need Internet access while you're taking a dip at the Barton Springs Pool or taking the Zilker Zephyr, you're kind of missing the point.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Funniest Movies

The American Film Institute recently published its list of the 100 Funniest Movies of all time.

Here's my list of movies that didn't make the list and that I can't believe they didn't put in the top ten:

The Princess Bride: A fairy tale with swordfights, a giant, pirates, a beautiful princess, an evil prince, and (some) kissing. Based on the novel by Willaim Goldman. What's not to love? One of the few instances in which the film version is better than the written, largely because the author wrote the screenplay.

GalaxyQuest: The aging cast of a cult sci-fi TV show is mistaken for the real thing by aliens with a really big problem. Tim Allen stars as the Captain in this brilliant parody of William Shatner and Star Trek.

My Cousin Vinny: New Yorker Ralph Macchio and his best friend are arrested for murder in a small Alabama town. His cousin Vinny, a lawyer, played by Joe Pesci, drives down to save him from the electric chair. Smart, well-told, "fish out of water" tale that pokes fun at regional stereotypes. And yes, Marisa Tomei deserved the Oscar.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Nia Vardalos plays a Greek woman who falls in love with a non-Greek played by John Corbett and must get her Greek father, Greek mother, Greek cousins, Greek uncles and Greek aunts to accept it. A very funny take on the "child of immigrants" motif.

The Sure Thing: John Cusack is a freshman in college and is taking a road trip across the continent with Daphne Zuniga. A teen comedy with heart, and characters who change and grow. It's funny, too.

Back to the Future: Michael J. Fox plays a 1985 teen who goes back in time in a Delorean built by mad-scientist Christopher Lloyd to make sure his parents meet and marry. Problem is, his parents are (and were) uber-geeks. Don't bother with the sequels. Just watch this one.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

VIKING WARRIOR, by Judson Roberts

VIKING WARRIOR, by Judson Roberts (HarperCollins 2006)(Ages 14+). ISBN 0-06-09996-X. Book One of THE STRONGBOW SAGA.

It's the Ninth Century and fifteen year old Halfdan is a slave -- the illegitimate son of slave Derdrui (who was captured long-ago in a raid on Ireland) and Danish Chieftain Hrorik Strong-Axe. Though he dreams of battle and winning spoils from foreign lands, Halfdan knows that a slave can never be a warrior. But Halfdan's fate is changed in one stroke when his mother sacrifices herself so that he may be freed. Now, Halfdan must learn to be a free man and a warrior. Can he earn the respect of his half-brother and the clan and become a true Viking warrior?

In VIKING WARRIOR, Roberts provides a richly-drawn glimpse into the Viking era. The story is fascinating and the action non-stop and appropriately bloody. Roberts offers likeable and well-developed characters without sugar-coating the mores of the day.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

EVA UNDERGROUND, by Dandi Daley Mackall

EVA UNDERGROUND, by Dandi Daley Mackall (Harcourt 2006)(ages 12+):

It's the late 70's and Eva Lott's senior year of high school. She'd rather be back home in Chicago than spending it in police-state Communist Poland. But her father is on a mission. Supposedly, he's there to teach, but he's really there to provide assistance with the anti-communist underground movement. The hardships and shortages that are a fact of life behind the Iron Curtain are bad enough, but it's worse knowing Big Brother is watching. Still, Eva begins to build a relationship with Tomek, one of her father's students, and with Poland as well. But even this is shattered when her father is deported and Eva must figure out how to survive behind on her own.

EVA UNDERGROUND provides a engrossing and sometimes chilling look into life in a totalitarian state, as Eva and her father struggle to make friends and learn a strange and foreign culture. With well-developed characters and plot, EVA UNERGROUND is much more than a social studies lesson, however. Mackall makes the struggles of daily life and against the police state apparatus in Communist Poland come alive.

Cynthia has an interview with Mackall on EVA UNDERGROUND here.
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