Three Fronts

Made good progress on three different projects this week.

First, the finished fantasy novel. I’ve pushed my first query letter out to my first choice of agent!

I don’t know how hitting Send on an email could make me so tense, but it felt like I was walking on stage in front of a crowd of thousands. But now it’s done, and I can use the synopsis from that letter to build other queries for other agents.

Second, I started workshopping a short story for the first time.

A fellow writer recommended LitReactor to me last year; this week I finally worked up the courage to join and post something for review. It’s a story I wrote on the plane home from New York last month. I’ve already gotten some good feedback on it, and will probably post a second story there soon.

Which brings to me to the third project: NaNoWriMo prep. I finished the short story (!) that I wanted to use to test out the concept. I think there’s definitely more to tell, there, though I’m not sure if I have enough for a full novel. Maybe just a series of stories.

Guess there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to dive in and see how far I can get.

NaNoWriMo is Coming

I really want to do NaNoWriMo again this year. Last time, it helped me finally dig in and start a novel, pushing me to get 50,000 words in before the end of November, and then finish it over the following months.

That same novel is now edited and ready for querying. I’ve spent this week drafting a query letter, one I’ll be editing this next week before starting to send out.

At the same time, I need to prep for NaNoWriMo, so I’ve also begun writing a new short story. It’s from an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a few years. I think there may be a novel’s worth of story in there, but I don’t want to dive in to one without some prep work.

So I’m writing a short story set in that world first, to see if it has legs. It’s something I did (without knowing it) for my first novel, and skipped — because I didn’t know it was something you could deliberately do — for the second.

Since I found the first novel much easier to write, and I’ve heard other writers mention using the short story as a way to explore a novel idea, I’m going to try it out.

If it works, I’ll have something solid to work with as I build my outline for NaNoWriMo. If it doesn’t, then at least I’ve only invested a week or two (instead of months).

Seven More Languages in Seven Weeks: Factor

Continuing on to the next language in the book: Factor.

Factor is…strange, and often frustrating. Where Lua felt simple and easy, Factor feels simple but hard.

Its concatenative syntax looks clean, just a list of words written out in order, but reading it requires you to keep a mental stack in your head at all times, so you can predict what the code does.

Here’s what I learned:

Day One

  • not functions, words
  • pull and push onto the stack
  • no operator precedence, the math words are applied in order like everything else
  • whitespace is significant
  • not anonymous functions: quotations
  • `if` needs quotations as the true and false branches
  • data pushed onto stack can become “out of reach” when more data gets pushed onto it (ex: store a string, and then a number, the number is all you can reach)
  • the `.` word becomes critical, then, for seeing the result of operations without pushing new values on the stack
  • also have shuffle words for just this purpose (manipulating the stack)
  • help documentation crashes; no listing online for how to get word docs in listener (plenty for vocab help, but that doesn’t help me)
  • factor is really hard to google for

Day Two

  • word definitions must list how many values they take from the stack and how many they put back
  • names in those definitions are not args, since they are arbitrary (not used in the word code itself)
  • named global vars: symbols (have get and set; aka getters and setters)
  • standalone code imports NOTHING, have to pull in all needed vocabularies by hand
  • really, really hate the factor documentation
  • for example, claims strings implement the sequence protocol, but that’s not exactly true…can’t use “suffix” on a string, for example

Day Three

  • not maps, TUPLES
  • auto-magically created getters and setters for all
  • often just use f for an empty value
  • is nice to be able to just write out lists of functions and not have to worry about explicit names for their arguments all over the place
  • floats can be an issue in tests without explicit casting (no types for functions, just values from the stack)
  • lots of example projects (games, etc) in the extra/ folder of the factor install

Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

Revelatory. Deliberately covers all of Jobs’ flaws from his early days at Apple, to show how he learned and grew during his years away to become the kind of leader that could save the company.

Along the way, builds a strong case for the importance of mentors, and for the very capable hands Jobs left the company in when he died.

Three things I learned:
– NeXT once had a deal with IBM to license their operating system to Big Blue, but it fell through because Steve couldn’t handle playing second fiddle
– All of the original five “Apple Renegades” that founded NeXT with Steve quit
– Toy Story spent four years in development before its premiere. Went through at least twelve different versions, including a “last minute” rewrite that delayed its release by a year.

Query Time

Opened the novel this week to continue my edits. Flipped open my notes, looked for the next thing that needed to be fixed.

There wasn’t one.

Which means: the edits are done, hooray!

But also means: it’s time to query agents. And suddenly I have the urge to hold onto the manuscript just a bit longer, to do just one more editing pass, before letting anyone in the publishing world see it.

That won’t do. So I’ve been researching agents open to submissions in my genre, compiling a list of five to start with. I’ll find more once I’ve heard back from these five.

I’m already steeling myself for the rejections, but there’s really no choice here: it’s either face rejection, or never have a chance of it getting picked up by a publishing house.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Surprisingly deep and engrossing. Reads like total fluff, but wrestles with real issues: debt, addiction, and substituting daydreams for working toward a goal.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Tension can come from a character’s inner dialog, instead of from events. With the right narration, a night of watching tv can become high drama.
  • Obstacles don’t have to come from outside the main character; it’s just as satisfying to watch them overcome situations they’ve created for themselves.
  • Don’t always need to hear both sides of a conversation. Sometimes it’s more fun to imagine the other side for ourselves.

Last Cull

Working through the last chapter that needs to be trimmed down. So far, I’ve cut about 12,000 words off the novel, close to my target of 14,000 (10% of the original length).

So this weekend I’ll be able to start fixing the multitude of other errors I’ve found in the cutting.

Thankfully my previous fixes — the patching over of the plot hole, making certain things explicit earlier in the book — have held up on this second read-through. In fact, I think trimming off the fat of the book has made the fixes better, bringing the stitched parts of the narrative closer together, in a way, so they reinforce each other.

Strange to think that deleting words not only improves the pacing, but makes the other parts stronger.