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I’ve had enough days where the words trickle out sideways to appreciate what has been happening lately.

Thursday morning, I knocked out more than 1,000 words on my new novel project — then was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked most of them today when I took another look.

After that warm-up editing session, I put down another 1,000-plus. I’ll let those steep overnight.

Total word count thus far: 25,852 in nearly eight chapters.

My wife is heading out of town for a visit with her best friend, so I figure to make even more tracks this weekend in my solitude. I’m also overdue for a polishing on the entirety of the manuscript, so I’ll probably fit that in, as well.

Gotta ride the hot streak as far as it will go.

If you’d like a taste of the novel-in-progress (tentative title: “Gone to Milford”), just click here.


Over at The Blood-Red Pencil, my new friend Heidi Thomas (author of “Cowgirl Dreams”) has a provocative post about setting and its role as a character in a story.

Near the outset, she writes:

As a reader, I like to have enough details about the setting to know where the characters are, in what time period the story takes place, and what the place looks like. If it takes place in a barber shop, I’d like to know that. But unless the barber shop has some unusual decorations or is in an unusual location, I really don’t need the author to describe it. We’ve all seen barber shops, and they basically look the same.

This is an important point, and it hits on a vital aspect of storytelling: separating the details that advance the story or lend useful information from the ones that don’t. Put another way, what you don’t write is almost as important as what you do.

This is a tough chore. It’s all too easy to fall off the ledge of being too expository — that is, telling the readers rather than showing them or allowing them to reach their own conclusions. Exposition makes for easy writing, but it’s generally hard reading. When I’m in the revision phase, seven times out of 10, if I’m cutting swaths of prose, it’s because I became too expository.

The passages I feel best about are the ones that draw a loose sketch of a person or a place — enough details to get the readers into it, but also not so many that I take the story from them. Anyone who has read “The Catcher in the Rye” has his or her own concept of what Holden Caulfield looks like. It matters little whether your mental picture looks like mine. In fact, it’s rather fun that we get to apply our own vision to the same story and same character.

Later, Heidi writes:

Everything you write should be colored by your point-of-view character’s mood and feelings. For instance, a character who is having a bad day probably wouldn’t notice the flower starting to bloom on the plant beside her desk. But she probably would notice the smudge on the computer screen, the annoying smudge that always seems to be where she needs to look.

You’ve no doubt heard the showbiz expression “what’s my motivation?” It’s a useful question when you’re building characters on a page, too. If you’re standing outside them, you don’t have the right vantage point. Somehow, you need to get behind the character and see what he/she sees and let that inform what you write. If you can get to that place, you’re far less likely to hit an off-key note or cause your character to do something that is out of touch with how you’ve drawn him.

Near the end of her post, Heidi finishes with something that should be required reading of anyone telling a story:

Whenever you stop to describe something in fiction, the progress of the story stops. Readers want movement, so every pause to describe or present a lot of factual background can weaken or kill the reader’s interest. The key is to sprinkle sensory descriptions throughout the story, rather than “dumping” them in great gobs.

Put another way: Moderation in all things. It’s excellent advice for healthy living, and for healthy writing.

When my friend Jim Thomsen and I chat electronically — which is nearly daily — inevitably one of us will ask the question: “How goes the chain-moving?”

Today, this is my answer: Quite nicely, thank you.

After veering off to do some Web site recasting — see the new results here — I got back to my new novel project and set down about 1,800 words (total so far: 22,200). More important than the number is the fact that I finally noodled out an essential turn in the narrative, a juncture that I’m quickly approaching. Had I not found my way out of this particular corner, my progress would have come to an abrupt halt.

I’ve also changed the working title. I started out with “Cuts and Dents,” a phrase I like and a nod to an R.E.M. song. But the title I’ve settled on, for now, is much more direct in getting to the heart of the story: “Going to Milford.” We’ll see if it stands up. I have another 50,000-plus words (and many, many, many revisions) to go. Plenty of time for a change of heart.

If you have a moment, please drift over to my new author site.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Wait a minute, dude. I thought this was your author site.

The short answer is, yes, it has been. The slightly longer answer is, no, it won’t be for much longer.

This is a basic WordPress blog that I gussied up into a full-blown Web site. But it has some commercial limitations (those who have bought books directly from me may have noticed that I was sending you off-site to my PayPal store). The new site has the store under the same roof, as well as some snazzy features that are difficult for me and my rudimentary site-building skills to replicate here.

Now, please, don’t change your bookmarks; simply add to them. This site is going to stay put. I love the WordPress blogging software, and I keep the chains moving on the blog three or four times a week. There’s still value in that — for quick-hit updates, for progress reports on new projects, for the occasional oddity that I like to drag into the light. (Plus, as a practical matter, this blog is feeding a half-dozen other sites, and I just don’t feel like untangling all of that stuff.)

For a while, you’ll see a lot of parallels between here and there, as I port over what I need and pare down the offerings here. The goal, eventually, is to have simply a blog and a nice blogroll here and the author-type stuff over there.

Clear as a tabletop? OK, good. Ready … break.

Monday very nearly turned into a lost day, writing-wise. And then, at the last possible moment, I turned it around.

I’m off Mondays, and I count on that day to get a lot of work done. My wife works Mondays, leaving me eight beautiful, solitary hours to spend at the keyboard.

But last night also brought the NCAA basketball championship, and so I dawdled through the game (which wasn’t very good), finally getting to the computer at about 9:45 p.m., leaving me a scant two hours before Ang got off work.

In those two hours, I pounded out a full chapter, nearly 4,000 words. It was a monstrously productive sliver of time.

Now, of course, those words will have to be gone over, again and again and again, before they’re ready for consumption. But they’re on the page. The story has advanced. I’m less than a week into it, and nearly 14,000 words have fallen. It’s a prodigious pace, and it makes me happy. Making me happier still: I continue to see the road ahead, with no obstacles on the immediate horizon. They’re out there, of course, but for now, I’ll enjoy the ride.

Not for nothing, I’m more than 5,000 words into the new project. It is pouring out, much as I expected that it would.

I’m nothing but grateful. Writing is hard under the best of circumstances. When the inevitable slog comes, I’ll remember this heady beginning.