You've seen me lamenting on this very blog the amount of time I'm wasting every day, and by wasting, I mean not writing. You have heard me talk about giving up cherished activities that enrich my day and bring enjoyment into my life, all for the sake of spending more hours a day carrying the crew of Beyond the Rails into more and more adventures. Seems I may have been mistaken.
During the last week or so, I curtailed some of my video gaming, which is the big drain, freed up more hours in the day, and earmarked them for writing. Well, guess what? It seems that these few hours of high-intensity writing activity that I get in the morning before the house wakes up and the excitement starts are about all the writing I can do, no matter how much time I allot. And it isn't because the TV or stereo come on, or there are conversations great and small. After all, I can take a notebook out to the garden and polish the outline, or for that matter, take the laptop. But no, the reason is simply because after a three hour burst of activity, my brain is ready to move on to something else, and if I force it to churn out an additional 10,000 words, they're going to be 10,000 words that I have to throw away because they don't measure up to the rest of my work.
Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as that curious old phrase goes, so how has this revelation translated into real life? Since my last post here one week ago, I have read a book, and written and posted a review, which will be repeated at the end of this post, because it deserves to be read, and I would be honored to turn the rest of you on to it. I am a third of the way into another. Chops, my best friend forever and steampunk inspirer, was over Sunday, and we all played five rounds of Flash Point, a cooperative boardgame in which you are all firefighters tasked with rescuing victims from a burning building. We did good, and enjoyed a lunch of Bonnie's pasta salad and Sidra's fruit pie. I have time to do the dishes and laundry for Bonnie, whose arthritic hips protest loudly at the thought of standing for protracted periods. I find time almost every day to take a cruise on the stationary bike, and yesterday I removed a small tree that was impacting my mailbox... all while finding the time to slaughter at least 10,000 zombies with Sidra, my wonderful daughter.
And during all this, I completed two chapters of Beyond the Rails III, and have another close enough to post tomorrow morning over at my reading group. The way this works is like this: Each morning, except Thursday when I post here, I complete a section, a scene if you will, told from the viewpoint of a single character. On average, four scenes make up a chapter, and I aim for 24 chapters in the book. It's a guideline, not a hard and fast rule, but here's what that means: At three chapters every two weeks, the whole book will be completed, in 1st draft of course, in 16 weeks. Triple that to include proofreading and rewrites, and that brings a book to market every 48 weeks. Some people are going to say, "What the hell, you should finish a book every three months!" I'm very happy for the people who can do that, but I demand of myself the highest quality I can achieve, and that isn't had by running my writing like a puppy mill. Bottom line, this will work, and I don't have to leave one demanding job just to pitch into another. Writing should be enjoyable for the author, and this will work to keep it that way, and to keep books coming steadily as well. I like that.
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Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the writing style of one Kara Jorgensen, a charming young lady who happens to be a member of my writers' group. Like all members of that group, Kara is a punk writer, in her case, steampunk, and The Earl of Brass is a tour de force from start to finish. The subtitle is The Ingenious Mechanical Devices (Volume 1), and that pleases me greatly, as I could take a steady diet of Ms. Jorgensen's fiction for a considerable period of time.
So, what am I raving about here? Thought you'd never ask. Let's examine the product, and go easy on the spoilers, while we're at it.
The Earl of Brass is in its essence the tale of two people, Eilian Sorrell, the young heir to a title, and Hadley Fenice, an incredibly gifted tinkerer whose creativity is stifled because she is female. Sounds very straightforward and predictable, but don't be fooled. It's twists and turns and loop-the-loops rival the most thrilling roller coaster.
You see, Eilian isn't interested in politics, hunting, smoking, or any of the things that come with his impending title. He uses his wealth and privilege to travel the Empire, and while returning home from a foray to the far East is the victim of a dirigible crash that takes his right arm. The medical arts of the period, 1890, barely save him, and his wealth allows him to purchase a prosthetic arm that doesn't do much besides fill his sleeve. It is made by the firm of Fenice Brothers, actually by Hadley's brother George, and delivered by her to the estate. Angry at Eilian for something he had nothing to do with, she expresses her displeasure in no uncertain terms, and they don't hit it off well. She later makes a much more articulated and controllable arm, and they become friends, going on a grand adventure at an archeological dig in the Palestine region, and running afoul of any number of unsavory characters and some other spectacular situations and discoveries that I have no intention of spoiling here. Just read the book.
One thing that is immediately apparent is that this book is very much written by a woman, and that is by no means a criticism. Yes, there is a will-they-or-won't-they romance running like a golden thread throughout the narrative, but the very worst thing you can say about it is that it takes away nothing from a huge, sprawling intercontinental tale. The intrigue, exotic cultures, lost civilizations, and larger-than-life villains are worthy of H. Rider Haggard, and unless you're even more jaded than I am, it will add an extra plot line to the tale that will put you through a wringer of emotions.
Like any author, Ms. Jorgensen's world view leaks onto the page, and she isn't subtle about allowing it its space. She has some comments to make about the situation of women and minorities at the end of the 19th century that speak to us today. When her heroine laments that she can only hope that these oppressive and myopic practices will have been abolished by a hundred years in the future, you can't help but feel her pain that so little has actually changed.
So now I need to give a quantitative rating on a one-to-five scale, which is asking a lot of one guy with an opinion, but it's the current standard, so I'll take a run at it.