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600_cover… I offer a scene in which Edward Stanton, the protagonist of 600 Hours of Edward, deals with the coming of the trick-or-treaters:

It is Halloween, but no one comes to the door. This is as I planned. On Halloween, I turn off all the lights and put my car in the garage, and it seems for all appearances that I am not home. That is so much easier than telling eager children at the door that, no, I have no candy for them. Children get sad when you say such a thing to them, and that is difficult enough. But some adults, they get violently angry. That I do not need.

Today marks the end of my three-day stint as a guest blogger at The Blood-Red Pencil. Today’s topic: Landing a publishing contract with Riverbend Publishing, which just released my debut novel, 600 Hours of Edward. Cruise on over and toss in a chance to win a signed copy of the book.

My blog book tour will pick up again Monday and run four more days at the following stops:

Monday, Nov. 2: I’ll have a guest post at For The Sake of Joy, a blog run by writer Kimberly Parker. In it, I’ll discuss the challenges and pitfalls of drawing a main character who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and Asperger syndrome. Gavin Bollard’s excellent blog, Life With Aspergers, will link to Kimberly’s site.

Tuesday, Nov. 3: Jim Thomsen will host me for a Q&A. Jim asks deep, penetrating questions — check out the Q&A with Diane Fanning that’s on his site now — so be sure to drop in.

Wednesday, Nov. 4: Cowgirl Dreams author Heidi Thomas will host a guest post from me on using the West as a setting.

Thursday, Nov. 5: Carol Buchanan, a Spur Award winner for God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana, will let me sit down and get into the nuts and bolts of how I wrote from Edward’s point of view.

Copies of the book will be handed out at each stop, so bookmark the sites now and follow along.

And check back here Sunday — the start of that crazy dash of writing called NaNoWriMo — for a guest post that simultaneously scares me and thrills me. My wife, Angela, will write about the birth of my novel from her perspective. I can’t wait to see what she has to say. Angela, it should be noted, is enormously supportive of my writing but also fiercely protective of her time with me away from the computer. It’s a perpetual balancing act, and one I don’t always perform well. … Anyway, I’ll let her cover this ground. She will pull no punches. She never does.

* — It is, after all, nearly Halloween.

Now that 600 Hours of Edward is available — really, it isseriously — I’m hitting the virtual road to chat about the book, writing, vintage TV, big-hair bands, alchemy, snipe hunting, whatever.

Behold, my schedule:

Day 1 of the blog book tour is in the bag. I was a guest at The Blood-Red Pencil on Wednesday to chat about National Novel Writing Month and 600 Hours‘ genesis in that event last year. (By the way, I’m doing the NaNoWriMo madness again this year. You should, too.)

Today, I’m back at The Blood-Red Pencil, this time talking about my experience initially releasing my novel through CreateSpace. Drop by and mix it up with us in the comments section. Here’s a bonus: A signed copy of 600 Hours will be given away.

Finally, on Friday, I’ll make one last appearance at The Blood Red Pencil to talk about landing a publishing contract with Riverbend Publishing, which gave my novel a new title, a new cover and a new life. And, yes, another signed copy of 600 Hours will be up for grabs.

Also Friday, I’ll appear on Stacey Cochran’s Book Chatter program on USTREAM. The show begins at 9 p.m. Mountain time. We’ll be talking about 600 Hours, publishing at large, writing and anything online viewers steer us toward. To call in, dial up the show at (914) 803-4571 or use the chat box online.

Monday brings the beginning of a new batch of guest blog posts. Join me at the following stops:

Monday, Nov. 2: Kimberly Parker’s For the Sake of Joy blog, where I’ll talk about Edward Stanton, the obsessive-compulsive Aspergian at the center of my novel. Bookmark the blog now and join in the comments and take your shot at winning a signed copy of the book.

Tuesday, Nov. 3: Jim Thomsen will host a Q&A with me at his blog. It will be an extensive look at the book, the writing life and the weird compulsions that go into it. We’ll give away a signed book there, too. (Are you sensing a theme?)

Wednesday, Nov. 4: Author Heidi Thomas (Cowgirl Dreams) is letting me hang around her corral and talk about using the West (or any other setting) as a character in a novel. (Signed book giveaway still in effect.)

Thursday, Nov. 5: The tour wraps up at the blog of author Carol Buchanan (God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana). Carol gave 600 Hours a favorable review back in its independently published days, and she did so despite general misgivings about first-person, present-tense point of view and main characters suffering from mental illness. Since I won her over, she’s going to let me explain why I made the storytelling choices I did and how I went about putting them into play. It will be a good discussion for anyone who struggles with point of view and character development. (Also, I’m made to understand that we’ll be giving away a signed book. I’m just sayin’.)

And for those of you in the Billings area, a few signings are on the schedule:

On Saturday, Nov. 7, I’ll be at Borders at 2833 King Ave. West from 2 to 4 p.m. to sign copies of the novel.

On Friday, Dec. 4, I’ll be in front of Thomas Books, 209 29th St. North, from 7 to 9 p.m. during the annual Billings Holiday Parade. Hope to see you there.

And on Saturday, Jan. 2, I’ll be at Barnes and Noble, 530 24th St. West, from 2 to 4 p.m. to help you make good use of those holiday gift cards.

Keep an eye on the events page at my Web site for more appearances and signings as they get lined up.

Thanks to the skills of R.J. Keller, author of the excellent Waiting for Spring, I’m happy to report that 600 Hours of Edward now has a video companion.

Check it out.

In other book-related news, we’re just days away from the start of my blog book tour for 600 Hours. Here’s the itinerary again:

Wednesday, Oct. 28: I’ll be at The Blood-Red Pencil to chat about the novel’s genesis in NaNoWriMo 2008.

Thursday, Oct. 29: Day 2 at The Blood-Red Pencil, where I’ll discuss lessons learned with the independently published version of the novel.

Friday, Oct. 30: Day 3 at The Blood-Red Pencil. On tap: a discussion about landing a contract with Riverbend Publishing, the publisher of 600 Hours of Edward.

Monday, Nov. 2: I’ll have a guest post at For The Sake of Joy, a blog run by writer Kimberly Parker. In it, I’ll discuss the challenges and pitfalls of drawing a main character who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and Asperger syndrome. Gavin Bollard’s excellent blog, Life With Aspergers, will link to Kimberly’s site.

Tuesday, Nov. 3: Jim Thomsen will host me for a Q&A. Jim asks deep, penetrating questions — check out the Q&A with Diane Fanning that’s on his site now — so be sure to drop in.

Wednesday, Nov. 4: Cowgirl Dreams author Heidi Thomas will host a guest post from me on using the West as a setting.

Thursday, Nov. 5: Carol Buchanan, a Spur Award winner for God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana, will let me sit down and get into the nuts and bolts of how I wrote from Edward’s point of view.

Be sure to bookmark these blogs and follow along. A signed copy of 600 Hours of Edward will be given away each day, and I’ll be sticking around to chat with folks who drop in a comment.

Because if he doesn’t, he gets no better than this.

I just dug out of my files a few pages of a novel I attempted to write when I was 18 years old (I’m 39 now). Titled Among the Meek, it’s horrible, putrid stuff, and I can’t take my eyes off it.

To give you a bit of the flavor, I’ll share the first paragraph:

The day hung heavy and grey. There was no visible sun to indicate the hour. The hills in the distance dotted the skyline. The green of the trees in the valley were blotted by the grey. It was the sort of day that emitted a foreboding of mediocrity. All that could be seen in the sky was grey.

So what I was attempting to say, if I’m reading this correctly in the hindsight of 21 years, is that it was gray. Excuse me, “grey.” (Apparently, I lapsed into an English lad in my late teens.)

Also, “foreboding of mediocrity” might be the most unintentionally hilarious line I’ll ever write.

The pages — there are nine of them, which is apparently as far as I could go — are heavily marked with notations in my handwriting, so I do take some retroactive heart that I knew this wasn’t very good. That’s a start, right?

I’m afraid this will be a rather meager moving of the chains. Much is going on, but none of it is particularly earth-rattling. I’m trying to create a temblor with a thousand tiny leaps.

Some notable things:

  • I continue to line up events related to the launch of 600 Hours of Edward. The latest: I’ll be at Borders Books in Billings on Saturday, Nov. 7, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to sign copies of the novel. This will be the first week of the book’s release, so come on out and get a copy.
  • I’ve finished the writing of blog posts for my virtual book tour, which begins on October 28th (a week from tomorrow) at Blood-Red Pencil. Here’s the complete list of blog spots: https://craiglancaster.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/on-tour/. A signed copy of 600 Hours will be given away every day of the tour, so get in there and mix it up with me in the comments sections of the host blogs.
  • Kudos department: I finally finished reading Carol Buchanan’s lovely debut novel, God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. My delay in reading it had nothing to do with the book, which is excellent from cover to cover, and everything to do with my own crazy schedule. Carol won a Spur Award for this book, and it’s easy to see why: She has the era, the characters and the dramatic arc locked cold. It’s just a wonderful piece of writing, and fans of fine literature would do well to add it to their to-read list.

More soon. I promise.

For you stat-heads, here’s a look at my day-by-day chain-moving in NaNoWriMo 2008, when I wrote the entire first draft of 600 Hours of Edward. The first number is cumulative word count. The number in parentheses is the change from the previous day:

  • Nov. 1, 2008: 5,763 (5,763)
  • Nov. 2, 2008: Off
  • Nov. 3, 2008: Off
  • Nov. 4, 2008: 11,183 (5,420)
  • Nov. 5, 2008: Off
  • Nov. 6, 2008: 13,721 (2,538)
  • Nov. 7, 2008: 16,963 (3,242)
  • Nov. 8, 2008: 20,439 (3,476)
  • Nov. 9, 2008: Off
  • Nov. 10, 2008: 23,085 (2,646)
  • Nov. 11, 2008: 27,293 (4,208)
  • Nov. 12, 2008: 30,744 (3,451)
  • Nov. 13, 2008: 34,558 (3,814)
  • Nov. 14, 2008: 39,886 (5,328)
  • Nov. 15, 2008: Off
  • Nov. 16, 2008: Off
  • Nov. 17, 2008: Off
  • Nov. 18, 2008: 43,846 (3,960)
  • Nov. 19, 2008: 51,811 (7,965)
  • Nov. 20, 2008: 54,816 (3,005)
  • Nov. 21, 2008: 60,837 (6,021)
  • Nov. 22, 2008: 63,957 (3,120)
  • Nov. 23, 2008: Off
  • Nov. 24, 2008: 73,208 (9,251)
  • Nov. 25, 2008: 79,175 (5,967)

About the highlighted dates:

Nov. 2-3: When I tell people now that I wrote nearly 80,000 words in less than a month, there’s an assumption that I did nothing but write. Not true. I took ample time off — eight full days, in fact. But when I was at the computer, I was punching the story down the field. To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to average 1,667 a day. That first day’s work bought me some time off immediately.

Nov. 15-17: I remember these days well. Angie and I went to her folks’ house in Fairview, and I remember feeling great relief about two things. First, I would make the 50,000-word mark. I had half the competition left and was nearly 80 percent of the way there. Second, and more important, I knew I would finish the story. By then, I was living inside it.

Nov. 19-22: I didn’t get the idea that I would finish the entire first draft inside the month until this stretch of days. That nearly 8,000-word effort on the 19th allowed me to clear the 50,000-word mark and succeed at the competition. But it was the next three days — bringing a collective 12,000-plus words — that moved the finish line into view.

Nov. 24-25: I don’t care who you are, writing 15,000 words in two days borders on insanity. I’m amazed that what I put down was semi-cogent. In any event, I hit the two best words of all during that stretch: “THE END.”

Here are a few more stats:

Over the 25 days, I averaged 3,167 words per day, whether I wrote or not.

The 17 days of actual writing up the average to 4,657/day.

In the first 10 writing days, I averaged 3,989 words.

In the final seven writing days, I averaged 5,613 words.

Now, about word counts: They’re only one way of assessing a story, and a pretty superficial one at that. Of far, far, far greater import is what the words are and what kinds of sentences, paragraphs and chapters they build. But if you’re giving NaNoWriMo a whirl, your word count should be your focus. The whole point is to get on down the road. Rewriting is for the second draft.

nanowrimoWe’re just a couple of weeks from NaNoWriMo 2009, and I’ve blocked out some time today to start drafting the outline of the project that I plan to launch in November.

I’ve already done something that I didn’t do for 600 Hours of Edward (soon to be published) or Gone to Milford (hopefully to be published): I wrote character sketches of the major players — their motivations, fears, physical attributes, personalities, backgrounds, etc. With the first two novels, I felt that I knew the characters fairly well before I ever dropped ass into chair, and though they surprised me along the way, their DNA was much as I imagined it to be.

With the new project, there’s much more of a sense that they will reveal themselves as we go. My sketches were intended to give us a starting point.

In previous posts, I’ve written about my minimalist approach to outlining. That, too, is likely to change, at least for this project. The plot that is gestating in my head has enough ins and outs that I’m going to need a more involved guiding document. The great likelihood is that whatever I come up with now will change later on. That’s fine, even preferable. The goal for today is to build a crude map. I can wander the story’s countryside later.

On November 1st, I start writing. That’s also the day that 600 Hours drops.

It’s going to be a hell of a month.

As the Nov. 1 release date of 600 Hours of Edward nears (and passes), I’ll be making some guest stops at blogs run by generous people so I can chat about writing and bringing Edward to life. Here is the lineup and the list of topics. Please drop by on the corresponding days and take part in the conversation. There should be lots of good book chatter, and at every stop, I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the book.

Wednesday, Oct. 28: I’ll be at The Blood-Red Pencil to chat about the novel’s genesis in NaNoWriMo 2008. (The 2009 version of the event begins four days later.)

Thursday, Oct. 29: Day 2 at The Blood-Red Pencil, where I’ll discuss lessons learned with the independently published version of the novel.

Friday, Oct. 30: Day 3 at The Blood-Red Pencil. On tap: a discussion about landing a contract with Riverbend Publishing, the publisher of 600 Hours of Edward.

Monday, Nov. 2: I’ll have a guest post at For The Sake of Joy, a blog run by writer Kimberly Parker. In it, I’ll discuss the challenges and pitfalls of drawing a main character who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder and Asperger syndrome. Gavin Bollard’s excellent blog, Life With Aspergers, will link to Kimberly’s site. Be sure to check out both blogs.

Tuesday, Nov. 3: Jim Thomsen will host me for a Q&A. Jim asks deep, penetrating questions — check out the Q&A with Diane Fanning that’s on his site now — so be sure to drop in.

Wednesday, Nov. 4: Cowgirl Dreams author Heidi Thomas will host a guest post from me on using the West as a setting.

Thursday, Nov. 5: Carol Buchanan, a Spur Award winner for God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana, will let me sit down and get into the nuts and bolts of how I wrote from Edward’s point of view. I’m looking forward to that.

I hope to “see” you there in the comments sections. At each day’s stop, I’ll be sticking around to chat with folks about the book, about writing, about anything. So save the dates and drop by.*

* — You don’t really have to save the dates, if you don’t want to. Chances are 100 percent that there will be periodic reminders as the dates draw near.

A friend of mine, author R.J. Keller, recommended this article over the weekend and in so doing noted her own struggles with hyphenation. (It’s OK for me to reveal that, isn’t it, R.J.?)

That caught my attention for the opposite reason: I love hyphens. And it’s not a sick, dirty, abusive love, either. It’s a good, clean, honorable love born of a compulsion to bring order to disorder (or, in many cases, to bring pedanticism to the perfectly understandable).

Long before I ever wrote a novel, I made my bones as a copy editor. And while I love to stand back in admiration at a sleek, stylish sentence — or, better yet, to write one — I will forever thrill at getting my hands greasy by tearing out the component parts and examining them. I think that partly explains why as much as I enjoy writing, I enjoy rewriting even more.

At any rate, given R.J.’s determination to get the better of hyphens, I felt compelled to share with her a style ruling I made a couple of years ago at my day job. The ruling was inspired by another friend, the estimable John McIntyre, who instituted a similar guideline at the Baltimore Sun. It’s meant to comfortably straddle two divergent approaches to hyphenation: the traditional view, which holds that rigid deployment of the little scamp of a mark ensures clarity even if it seems a bit stuffy, and the more modern view, which eschews the hyphen unless its omission would somehow compromise readability.

Here, then, is that style codification. Grab your popcorn:

Compound modifiers and hyphens

This is a grammatical issue that leads to wild inconsistency in the stories we publish. The general movement these days, judging from our copy (wire and locally produced), is to eschew hyphens in compound modifiers unless ambiguity would result. The problem with that approach is in perception: One person’s clarity is another’s ambiguity.

Accordingly, we’re instituting some guidelines that, we hope, will round us into form:

First, be sure you’re actually dealing with a compound modifier and not a single adjective modifying a noun phrase. That’s dangerously gobbledygookish, so here’s an example: One might be tempted to hyphenate “grilled cheese sandwich,” but a closer examination makes it clear that the cheese sandwich (there’s your noun phrase) is being grilled, not the cheese inside the sandwich. Verdict: not a compound modifier, and therefore no hyphen.

Once you’re sure you’ve hooked a compound, look in the AP stylebook for an explicit ruling on the specific compound in question. The general rule, as outlined in the punctuation section, is far less reliable — so much so that even AP’s own writers and editors follow it inconsistently, making it almost useless.

If you don’t find the compound in the AP stylebook, check the dictionary (Webster’s New World College Edition), which governs everything AP doesn’t. The dictionary, for example, calls for a hyphen in “ice cream” as a compound modifier (e.g., “ice-cream cone”). While that might strike you as overly rigid, hyphenate away. Because you know what happens once we start disregarding the dictionary willy-nilly: collapsing schools, anarchy, cats and dogs living together in sin and other enormities too horrible to mention.

So, let’s say for argument’s sake that you haven’t found satisfaction from AP or the dictionary. Here’s how you arrive at a solution:

In noun-noun combinations (stream access bill, coalbed methane drilling, etc.), no hyphen. This will come up a lot with legislation and other government-related (!) stuff.

In adjective-noun or noun-adjective combinations (small-arms fire, right-field fence, time-consuming task, AIDS-related complications, user-friendly, etc.), use a hyphen, as do those compounds backloaded into a sentence (the man is well-known, her advice is well-regarded, he is quick-witted, etc.)

Here comes a mouthful: In any compound modifier of three or more words in which at least one is an adjective, use the hyphens throughout. For example: property-tax-related bills (not property tax-related bills).

In any case where ambiguity is evident, regardless of combination, use the hyphen. No amount of codification will eliminate the need for writers and editors to practice discretion. And thank goodness for that, or else we’re all filling out job applications at Albertsons (no apostrophe).

One last hint: It’s OK to embrace grammatical avoidance, that deft little maneuver that involves writing around a problem. Sometimes, it’s better to find a new construction than to untangle a pile-up of modifiers. “He is awaiting trial on charges of immigration fraud” sounds a lot less stilted than “He is awaiting trial on immigration fraud charges.” (And never mind the extra words; we’re talking about clarity here, not brevity.)

As ever, a relatively small number of adjective-noun compounds, owing to common usage, will remain un-hyphenated: middle school, high school, real estate, civil rights, mental health, natural gas. We will err on the restrictive side in granting these exceptions, however. The guiding principle is that a hyphen will almost never inhibit clarity, while the absence of one can certainly lead to unclear writing and unhealthy relations between felines and canines, both of which are outcomes we should all strive to avoid.

Finally, this by no means covers all possibilities and combinations. We’ll just grapple with the ones that don’t neatly fall into categories as they come up.

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