Ah Yes, the Revision Stage

A few weeks back I was feeling pretty good about my writer self. I had finished the first draft of my novel, read through it and made some changes, and spent a ridiculous amount of money printing out 300 pages.

Then I began a class on novel structure, taught by Lani Diane Rich (author of many books), the same person who taught the Discovery writing class I took earlier this year. The basic synopsis of the class is teaching beginning novelists the ins and outs of a four-act novel with seven anchor scenes, learning how the action builds from one point to the next. If you can remember back to middle school English, it's similar - but more detailed - to the basic graph of a three-act play, with fun terms like "rising action" and "denouement" (Mrs. McCormick would be so pleased I remember those things).

First off, Lani is a terrific teacher and her classes are a lot of fun, but they are also work and she will be completely honest when you share pieces of your work. As she should be - that's exactly what I wanted.

The first thing we shared was our opening scene, which for me is my first chapter. It's about 1,600 words or so, eight or nine pages double spaced in Word. Each person in the class reviewed each of the scenes with specific questions in mind and Lani did the same.

She warned us ahead of time she would be brutal if it called for it, and she was - but in a good way. There were pieces of mine she really liked, and pieces she didn't like. She followed that up with great suggestions on how it could be better, most of which I agreed with. (I should note at this point she also recommended we share the scene with some friends who didn't know what the story was about, and see what they expected from the rest of the book - this was a fantastic, and revealing, exercise.)

After that I felt pretty good. She was honest and brutal, but she didn't shred it to pieces - I counted that as a win.

The second exercise was taking the action in our book and applying it to the structure presented in the class. I thought this would be easy, since as part of the planning for my novel I kept an Excel spreadsheet where I detailed the action by chapter.

It was not easy. In fact, it was really, really freaking hard - a zillion times harder than I expected. There were points where I'm supposed to be talking about my own book, about something I had written and spent countless hours with, and I didn't know what to say, didn't know what was right. Or, as I wrote it thought, hey, that doesn't make sense.

Predictably the honest critique exposed all of that. And it was, again, awesome and revealing and I wouldn't change a single thing about it, but at the same time it's a tad depressing. I plan on incorporating about 70% or so of her suggestions into the next draft of the book, but it does mean some very drastic changes. Characters will be minimized and in some cases their entire roles in the story will be changed. My main character needs to be harder, tougher, and the next draft will reflect that.

In fact, with Lani's suggestions, other suggestions from classmates, and my own thoughts, I made a list of (so far) 10 things I will focus on in the next draft. Some of them are big, some small. Some chapters will be totally redone, some will just be tweaked. Some points in the story are going to change drastically.

This is a daunting task, especially after having already written 300 pages and having felt pretty good about it.

But at the same time, another exercise was to read my own novel like a reader, just making notes of things that did and did not work. My conclusion? It's a long way from what I thought it was in my head - but it's also not horrible. There is some good stuff here and I think with my list of focal points I'm going to pull out a much tighter story, and I firmly believe this next phase will be completely worth it.

So here I am, getting ready to begin. I've put it off for a week, dealing with some stressful times at both of my jobs, but this weekend the next draft will begin.

Some authors love this part. Wifey and I went to Tawna Fenske's book signing in Beaverton last week and another well-known Portland author, Bill Cameron (whom I admire and respect and writes similar stories to mine) was also there. I awkwardly introduced myself - we had chatted on Twitter but never met in person - and after he placed my face with where he knew me from, he asked me about my own progress. I told him about the stage I was at and he nodded, knowingly. This was his favorite part, he said, because this is where a story really finds it's voice. Lani said almost the same thing, as did Tawna.

I'm ready, story. I'm going to dig that voice out of you, shredding to pieces whatever needs shredding, and it will be good (when I want to be really cocky I can think "great").

Wish me luck!


Not So Lucky This Time

Last fall I got pulled over for speeding in Hillsboro and inexplicably did not get a ticket. I mean, that's great, I don't want one, but it always surprises me (not that it happens all the time or anything) how subjective the process is.

To me it's pretty clear. Officer records driver speeding, officer pulls driver over, officer writes ticket.

So why do they sometimes not write a ticket? Or why do they sometimes pull a driver over in a given situation, but then in an identical situation not pull them over? Why is so much left to however the officer feels in a given moment? (I have no answers for these questions, only weak suppositions having to do with how much sleep the officer got the night before or how motivated they may be feeling - kind of like me every day I go to work.)

A few months ago we drove out to the coast for the day. We go to Cannon Beach a lot (that's where I proposed), so that means taking Highway 26 straight west from Portland to Highway 101 and heading south a few miles. Highway 26 is a beautiful drive, twisting through the Coast range, hitting a summit of about 1600 feet, with forests and tiny, tiny towns dotting the route. It crosses back and forth over rivers and streams, mostly on two-lane roads with the occasional passing lanes, and about the only negative is having to see some of the clear-cut forests desperately trying to recover.

And it's a smooth drive. The posted speed limit is 55 and generally people follow it, but often they drop to 50 and sometimes even lower. I pass those people whenever I can, because I'm more likely to be hitting 60-65. I love the drive, but it's still 70 miles to the coast and even at 8am I'm in a hurry to avoid the rush and make sure we get a parking spot, either in town in Cannon Beach or one of the beaches near the town. (On a summer weekend if you don't get there by 10am you will have great, great, great difficulty finding a parking spot anywhere on the coast.)

There is a stretch of road heading west, coming down from the summit, where it widens to four lanes as it twists down the mountains. It passes by the one rest stop on the way (so if you need to go, you can't miss it) and eventually bottoms out near the turn-off to the north to head to Saddle Mountain (a hike we have done once and need to do again, but it's not an easy one). Coming down the mountain the road curves in lazy turns and cars just about always hit 70. I do. Sometimes it's planned because I'm passing someone who inexplicably drives 50 when there is one lane but hits 65 when there are two, but others it's just a product of enjoying the smooth drive and coasting downhill.

Coming out of one these curves, a couple miles east still of the Saddle Mountain turn-off, about half the time a state trooper is sitting there gunning the Portlanders heading to the beach. I've seen him many, many times. I've panicked many, many times, wondering if I'm going to get pulled over. I've driven past him at 72 miles an hour, and not been pulled over.

Saturday I was not lucky. I came out of the curve at 71, saw the police car, and hit the brakes, but of course once you see the car it's too late - your speed has already been recorded. As I passed him, down to about 63 by that time, I saw the lights come on and swore. I pulled over before he barely made it on the road and had my license and insurance card waiting for him. Not a lot you can say, right? Nothing to argue.

The officer was polite, but he did give me a ticket ($190, ouch). He must not have been a dog person, because Misaki gave him her best puppy dog eyes to no avail.

Like I said, I can't complain - I was speeding. What really bugs me is I know there is always an police car in this exact spot, but I wasn't paying close enough attention to anticipate that. (Yes, sure, the other option is just always keep it under 65 - I know.) Not only do I have only myself to blame for speeding, but I have only myself to blame for being stupid and speeding without paying attention to my exact circumstances.

One of these days I'll learn, I suppose.

Good thing I don't have a car that really would be conducive to driving fast, like a BMW or a Porsche. I'd be screwed then.


2011 NW Shibas 4 Life Annual Picnic

A couple weeks back NW Shibas 4 Life had their annual picnic and we, of course, took Misaki to play with all the other Shibas. Somehow I have neglected to post pictures of the event, so it's time to rectify that.

An unknown black and tan Shiba. 

Running around their two-acre field on a hot day wears out a Shiba.

This is Koda, a creme Shiba.

Misaki checking out a mole hill. (She had something to say about that.)

Cuddling up to her momma. (She had something to say about this, too.)

Mugen is the red and white Shiba with the ball in his mouth. I think the other is Abbey.

Two Shibas playing.

Misaki and a sesame Shiba named Joey.

This Aizu, one of Misaki's sons is from her second litter.

Misaki and Cookie, a very timid little girl.

This is Jewel, the official hostess of NW Shibas 4 Life.

A Shiba checking out some scattered debris.

Eight Shibas in one picture! Pretty proud of myself.

Misaki sniffing Aizu.

Abbey with a softball. She and Misaki didn't growl at each other, which is a win in my book

Misaki sniffing the stump with Abbey and a another Shiba.

Misaki had a lot of fun and can't wait to go back!

We encourage those who would like to support NW Shibas 4 Life. They sell a calendar annually and the proceeds go directly to their Shiba rescue program. You can order one here.


Another Sad Goodbye: Ziba's Pitas

Wifey and I are big, big fans of Ziba's Pitas, a Bosnian foodcart in downtown Portland on 9th and Alder. Last week it was announced Ziba was retiring and had put the cart up for sale, which is sad for her fans all over the city (on the other hand, yay for retirement!).

She is continuing to work the cart until it sells and is even willing to teach someone all of her tricks and techniques if they want to make a go of following in her footsteps. (Believe me, I thought about it. Briefly. Then I saw the lunch rush.)

So what better way to say goodbye than by stuffing ourselves silly with Bosnian food?

We opted for two full plates, the first being the burek - meat filled pitas. It comes with a side salad of cucumbers and sour cream and  generous helping of ajvar - a relish made from red bell peppers, eggplant, garlic, and chili pepper (it has a kick). The ajvar is the perfect complement to the wonderfully seasoned meat.

We opted for a side of ustipaks too, which are soft, fluffy puffs of bread. They also come with ajvar and a side of cottage cheese.

Our second main course was very similar to the burek, but it's called zeljanica. Instead of a meat filling, it's a mixture of spinach, eggs, cottage cheese and sour cream.

All of it, as usual, was fantastic. The pitas are fried to a nice crunch and when topped with the ajvar the flavors are just amazing.

Happy retirement Ziba, but you will be sorely missed. Hopefully someone takes her up on her offer to teach them her food, but these are big shoes to fill.