Sunday, November 30, 2008

Have a Novel - and a Basset

Done! I'm done, done, done, done, done!

The novel, tentatively entitled Drowned Deep, is finished. The first draft stands at 50,646 which includes two (2!) prologues, an epilogue, and various other word boosters. As I noted before, I actually hit the end of the story at about 43,000 words, the epilogue, first prologue and a couple of internal scenes got it to 49,644 as of this morning. Whereupon we hit the road home, and between car troubles, dinner, and getting back in gear at home I didn't actually get back to the file until eight tonight. Fortunately, 300 something words is a cinch at this point - though figuring where to stick them was something of a problem. Hence the second prologue. One or both of them may eventually go away. One or both of them may eventually move into the body of the novel. But right now they're prologues. The epilogue is probably staying. I like it, and it matches the epilogue at the end of Ghost Dancer fairly nicely.

Now I'll ignore the file for a month or two, because if I go read it right now, I'll be convinced it's a pile of crap. Whereas if I wait until my memory has faded somewhat, I may be pleasantly surprised - or not - but at least it won't be certain that I'll hate it.

In the meanwhile, have a basset. Nicky is glad to be home. Being one of four dogs is exhausting. Unfortunately for him, he's going to have to get used to it, because sometime in January or February, my father-in-law is moving in with us (until we can get the house sold, and him into an apartment, which will probably take some time), complete with his three dogs. Rest up while you can, Nicky!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Two Second Update

Posting from my FIL's computer with the wrong kind of keyboard, so this will be short.

I finished my Nano storyline today, which marks the first time I've ever completed a story, instead of just getting the 50,000 words. Unfortunately, the story as it stands clocks in at just over 43,000 words. When filled in it will definitely be over the mark, but that kind of filling in is generally slower than full-forward writing. So my task for the next two days is to find 7000 words worth of additional scenes, description, and anything else I can come up with.

The hopeful part is that since we're at my FIL's, I don't have too much else I need to do but write. And since I have my laptop with me (early Christmas present - thank you, Love!), I can write the whole four hours on the way back home Sunday.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Nano Notes

A brief update from the throes of writing agony - which both is and isn't this year. As can be seen by my little sidebar widget, I'm definitely running behind at this point. I'm still within striking range - unless I get badly stuck, I should be able to pull it out - yet there's little doubt that I'm going to be writing long, hard hours every day between now and Nov. 1 if I'm going to pull the full 50,000 out of my hat.

On the good side though, the story is really running well now. I have a plot. I have decent characters. They're all hanging out and doing the things they're supposed to be doing. My prep level this year seems to have been just about right - enough pre-planning that I was rarely at a complete loss (thanks Bill and Leslie for the periodic brainstorming when things got clogged), but not so much that the characters felt constrained and wooden. It's even possible that I may finish this plot as part of the NaNo shot, which would be a first. Of my previous successful NaNo's my first -Ghost Dancer - is the only one that's complete at this point. My second is still stuck on the difficulty of a character who refuses to die, and my third, while it finally has an ending that I'm heading for, hasn't yet actually gotten there. Even Ghost Dancer was incomplete as a story at the end of NaNo; it didn't, in fact, acquire an ending for nearly four more years. Not until I started putting chapters up for my on-line writing group, and when I failed to put up new chapters, people would write me, write little ditties to post about me, or even contact my brother to tell him to tell me to get on the ball and write more, did I get down to business and finish out Ghost Dancer. So it feels a little weird to be 30,000 words in, and be fairly confident of where this book is going and how it's going to end. I may even wrap it up in the 50,000 words .

Which is not to say it will be a 50,000 word novel. As I've been speeding along, I'm discovering all sorts of side issues that will need to be retconned in once I hit the end (a little terraforming, anyone?). I'm estimating at least another 10-20,000 words just to put in the necessary additional information after I hit the end. We'll see when I get there - but it's feeling really good to actually feel like this is going to end in the first pass. A little less like writing the Neverending Story.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Matter of Time

I ran into this article in the Guardian on-line, thanks to Erin of A Dress A Day (excellent site for anyone interested in sewing).

It's a summation of the notions in a new book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers: The Story of Success. It was so fascinating that the book went on my Amazon wishlist before I'd even finished reading the article.

The summary of the summary would be essentially: there is no such thing as inherent genius. There are bright people, certainly, and talented people, but what makes a genius is opportunity, perseverance, and time - 10,000 hours of time, to be precise. And all of it boils down to that time.

The opportunity is what allows somebody to spend 10,000 hours perfecting a skill - that's not a trivial amount of time. Working eight hours a day, five days a week - I.e. making your desired skill your full time job - it would still take five years to put in 10,000 hours. And how many of us are truly working at improvement every minute for a whole work day, even if we're lucky enough to be making a living at our skill? A would-be designer working as a dressmaker or a writer actually having a day-job that requires writing would generally be considered exceptionally fortunate. Most genius comes from middle and upper classes, simply because people lower down the economic ladder don't have that kind of time to devote to perfecting skills - they're too busy keeping afloat.

Perseverance is the will and desire to keep pushing at your desired skill, to keep working at it and loving working at it for years.

Both of which add up to - more time spent learning, perfecting, and pushing the limits of your skill.

Apparently the thresholds run as follows: if you want to be better than average - but no great shakes - you need to spend about 4,000 hours perfecting your skill. For really good - but not genius - about 8,000. For genius - 10,000 and up.

This would jive with my experience of my skill levels in various things, thus far. My one, true, genius-level skill, would be my reading ability. I read fast, voraciously, and continuously. Hard reading material doesn't slow me down much - and I retain what I read, often to the point of being able to tell you position on a page for a given bit of information.

Timewise? Well, I learned to read independently somewhere between two and three. I puttered around in children's books until I hit five years old. I can still remember the day, a few days after the end of kindergarten, when I was bored silly. I was past the children's books and board books. I had read all the intermediate books we had (not many) to death , and Mom and Dad's books were still beyond me. I was kicking around the house, desperate for something to read, and my eyes lit on this row of blue hardback books in the den, just to the right of the fireplace. These were books my brothers read, and maybe, just maybe they weren't beyond me? So I pulled one down and looked. It was a Hardy Boys book, and it had pictures - not many, about six for the whole book, but enough to convince me it wasn't a scary adult book. So I took it off and read it. It took me a few hours, but I liked the story, and went straight into the next one.

Long story short - I read the entire set of Hardy Boys that my brothers possessed at that time (32 plus the dectectives handbook, and two random Nancy Drew books) in the summer between kindergarten and first grade. By the end of the summer it was taking me less than two hours to make it through a book, and I never looked back. In fourth grade at Christmas, my eldest brother gave me some Fantasy for Christmas (Dragonsong, Night Mare, and Ogre, Ogre). By middle school I was reading three or four hours a day every day - more on weekends. On one notable occassion, I killed off the entire Lord of the Rings set, plus The Hobbit in one 27 hour reading marathon. On another I checked 27 horticulture books out of the library on a Friday, and returned them, read, on Monday after school - though this was a bit of a cheat, since the material was often very similar book-to-book.

So I put in those 10,000 hours reading and then some. Small wonder I'm a bibliovore.

Singing on the other hand, I probably log in at the 4,000-6,000 mark - and indeed, I'm a good , strong singer. I stand out a mile in the average church choir - but I'm not even professional performer level, let alone a genius at it. And these days I don't push my skills singing. I just sing at the level I am and enjoy it - so I doubt the time I spend now accrues.

Which brings me to my current most desired skills - karate and writing, which is what I've been pondering since these links came my way. Here, I'm still short of even the 4,000 hour better-than-average range. My best figuring would put me at about 1,000 hours total practice in karate - perhaps bolstered somewhat by the sheer amount of time I spend visualizing and reading and thinking about karate. Still a long way to go. Years, most likely. Likewise for writing, where I come in slightly higher - but not very much - perhaps 2,000 hours.

Which is followed by the next thought - do I want these skills badly enough to put in the 10,000 hours required? Or, presuming I persist in both these pursuits over the years, how many years is it going to take me?

Writing seems more doable - more related to reading, perhaps. I can see myself spending multiple hours a day, every day, writing - even if that's a rarity right now (well, not right now, it is NaNo month, after all). I have trouble seeing myself putting in that kind of daily effort into karate - daily practice, yes, but not hours and hours of it.

On the other hand, it wasn't all that many years ago, I couldn't see myself doing karate at all. Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The To-Do List

One of the most anxiety-inducing parts of knowing Sensei intends to test me soon, is that I don't actually know everything I need to know for the black belt test yet. I'm not down to polishing, I'm still actively learning new material. Now Sensei knows how fast I can learn (and so do I), but there's still that extra edge of "I don't even know this stuff!" So, I'm putting up a to-do list here, and going to try to make some sort of attempt to sort it out. Ideally, I'd like to have the new stuff down by early January, giving me at least a month, and more likely three months plus to give everything the appropriate polish.

Empty hand katas:
Sunsu - started, unfinished(1-2 classes to learn the remainder - I'm almost there)
Sanchin - not started

Weapons katas:
Tokumine no Kun (1 class to learn the very first bit (reverse-shaping kata), otherwise in excellent shape)
Kusanku Sai - I know the empty hand version, but only know the opening section with sais.

Still need to learn the last 3 patterns. First six in good shape.

Vocabulary is under control.

Essays still need to be written. I have posts on this blog that would do for first draft versions of two of the three essays (more coming soon).

Huh. I think I'm better off than I thought. Sanchin is really the only thing that really worries me on the list. Sunsu is going well (though I need to spend more time at home working it, it's still choppy - largely because I'm so in love with Tokumine no Kun that I spend most of my at-home kata practice working on that .) Kusanku Sai is going to be more a matter of getting reacquainted and comfortable with my sais (Please, Santa, can I have the Sureido sais for Christmas? I've been a very good girl!) than of memory, since I already have the patterns. The self-defense patterns are short and sweet - the main concern is that the people testing them on me really will be trying to deck me, and so far nobody in the dojo has been willing to practice with me full-tilt. I'd hate to get my nose broken at my own black belt test!

But all-in-all, I think that's a pretty doable to-do list for two months.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Official confirmation from Sensei. He expects (hear this word with a heavy layer of emphasis) that I will be ready to test for my shodan before my birthday (early April), and that he will test me by that point.

I had had an inkling of this from Sensei D a few weeks ago, but when he realized that Sensei had not said anything to me yet, he shut up abruptly.

Bringing up promotion expectations with Sensei is a big no-no with him, you wait until he brings it up, so I've been twitchy about this - wanting to know more, but not daring to ask. (Sensei wouldn't spring a black belt test on me on short notice, would he?)

Though honestly, I can't say I'm less twitchy know that I know. Just twitchy in a slightly more focused way.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Lennox et al.

I'm back again from the Lennox Legacy tournament. I had an absolute blast this year - the best time I've ever had at the Lennox, and I usually enjoy this tournament.

This year I was able to go up to Akron Friday night, arriving about midnight (as opposed to last year where I left at 2am and arrived 5 minutes after the start). I got up in good time to get to the tournament and change into my gi. One advantage of going to this same tournament every year, is that by now I'm familiar with where everything is, so there's no wasting time thrashing about looking for the Tadmor Shrine, or my hotel, or the local grocery store.

This tournament always starts with a seminar by Hanchi Duessel. Duessel is the highest ranked American in the IWKA (Isshinryu World Karate Association). He's a ninth dan, an elderly but still very fit man who is a vertible font of karate knowledge. If you ever get the chance to pick up a copy of his book Beyond Black Belt, I would recommend it.

This year's seminar started with retraction - the pulling back of the opposing hand as you strike. We covered four different types of retraction (to hip, to solar plexus, to neck, and to the rear) and practiced all of them, with some explication of possible applications for each one. From there we moved into stances, covering Seuichin (horseback riding stance), T stance (Cat stance), and Crane stance (Hook stance). Hanchi Duessel and his second prowled up and down the lines giving corrections and suggestions. I know my T stance improved markedly from their advice. I've been going to these seminars since I was an orange belt, and I feel like every time I'm getting more and more out of them, because I have a bigger base of knowledge to start from.

After the seminar, I got to meet up with someone I have thus far only known on-line (from the Isshinryu women Yahoo forum). Sunshine is aptly named and an absolute delight. She's young (early twenties) and a 2nd dan. She's a font of knowledge, but very humble with it, because she feels like she's young for her rank. She and I spent most of the day where we weren't competing, hanging out watching the rings and talking and talking and talking...

I did not break my streak of last place kata finishes, making this the fourth year running I've finished last in my division in kata at this tournament. However, unlike last year, I feel pretty good about this year's results. Last year I finished last in a good sized division where there were several people who really weren't very good, and none of the judges placed me very high at all. I desperately wanted to go shake them and wail "What did I do wrong?" Even after watching videos, my sensei and I (and a few other consulted black belts) were just puzzled about the results. It wasn't the perfect kata by any means, but it just didn't seem to be as bad as the judges apparently thought it was.

This year I finished third out of three. However, the panel of judges was entirely divided about our respective rankings. My three scores placed me first, second, and third, and my competitors' did likewise, making the final placement rest entirely on score totals. Plus, the judge who placed me first talked to me afterwards (made a point of it), and was extremely complimentary about my flow and timing - two things I was getting negative commentary on last year. A note to those of you who judge - this is possibly the nicest thing any judge has done for me in four years of competing. I was nearly in tears, because it's the first time someone (other than my sensei) has told me I'm doing things right in my kata. I'll take my third place and those compliments over the gold medal any day. Not that I won't work my heart out for gold next year, but now it doesn't feel like a hopeless task.

Kumite was simply weird. They didn't have enough competitors in senior women's kyu ranks to make up a field. (Kata and weapons are co-ed, fighting is split out by gender). So they decided to combine all the kyu ranks into one field, leaving us with a white belt (3 months experience), a blue belt (Taekwondo, first tournament), and two brown belts, both of us with four plus years and multiple tournaments, in the same group. Adding to the weirdness, they then paired the blue and white together, and the two browns together in the first round. Patti (the other brown) beat me in a fairly close fight (3-5 with multiple no decision exchanges). She then demolished the white belt for the gold medal, while I beat the blue belt 5-1 for third. I've made a suggestion for future tournaments that small groups (3-6 competitors) use a Round Robin format before progressing to single elimation, both to give everybody more chances to fight, and to make sure medals are more fairly distributed. I don't particularly care about a third place vs. a second place, but Patti, who actively competes for the year end awards (points given by placing), would have been severely annoyed if I had beaten her and she had been placed third beneath a white belt she could beat easily.

T. also came to the tournament and did very well, with three silver medals, especially impressive since he just recently (in the last month) moved up from the pre-teen intermediate category to the teen advanced category, which is a massive leap in competitiveness and aggresiveness. Sensei did not compete (to my surprise), but instead ran the peewee ring all day. He was slightly miffed at the way a tournament that used to be exclusively Isshinryu (non-Isshinryu people could compete, but had to use Isshinryu katas to compete with.) has become an open tournament, with the only concession to Isshinryu particularly being that all weapons must be Okinawan weapons.

I (along with Sensei and Sunshine) was invited back to the tournament organizer's house for dinner and after-chat. I had a blast with this (and found a new beta reader for Ghost Dancer!), and ended up leaving very late, not getting home until past 1am.

The boys meanwhile, had their time with Daddy. Their costumes were a hit, with multiple people stopping them on the street to take pictures. Unfortunately, the pictures Rob took came out too dark, so sometime here we'll try to stick them back on the boys and post them up. Their report cards also came in this week, and both of them did very well, so all is good on the school front. Plus I really like Robbie's fifth grade teacher, whom I had not had a chance to talk to before this week. She's very sweet, and the fact that she seems to adore Robbie doesn't do her any harm in my book. Robbie is also going to be on the Academic Team again this year. It should start in Febuary to prep for spring competition. He really enjoyed it last year, so I'm looking forward to having him do it again.

NaNo is going. My meter is up in the corner for those following along. I'll only be updating every third or fourth day, due to the extreme slowness of the NaNo boards right now. I may change that once we're back from Great Lakes Games and I'm not trying to cram every spare second into simply not falling too far behind. For example, my actual current count is 3687, while the meter shows 2011, but I won't be updating until tomorrow morning, with whatever number is accurate then.