Revising Leah

February 5, 2009

The End

This blog has been an act of redemption.

In the months and years following the publication of the first edition of Leah back in 1996, I found myself increasingly unhappy with the book and the quality of the story I had written. My unhappiness loomed over all of my other writing, eventually paralyzing to me to the point where I stopped writing creatively altogether for a few years. It became a goal of mine to revisit and rewrite the novel someday. I needed to redeem myself as a writer, because I knew I am a better writer than the fool who published that poorly written book in 1996.

And, perhaps more importantly, I wanted to redeem Leah Nells, one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever created. She deserved so much better than to languish in the flawed fictional universe where I abandoned her over a decade ago. This project has been for her as much as it’s been for me.

The project is complete now. The novel has been revised and republished, my sense of myself as a writer has been redeemed, and Leah Nells is at last in the story that I imagined for her so many years ago. With nothing left to do and nothing left to revise, I’m bringing this blog to a close. This will be my last post.

I want to thank everyone who visited this blog, everyone who left comments, and everyone who linked to me from their own blogs. It’s been fun meeting so many different people.

I’ll be starting a new writing project — and a new blog — soon. The new book and the new blog will both be titled Juvenilia (there’s a link in the sidebar). Both the book and the blog will be an ambitious project in which I’ll be collaborating with the two main characters in the creation of the novel. It should be a lot of fun, and I hope everyone who followed this blog will join me for my next one. It will probably launch sometime around the first of March. Until then, I’m going to take a little time off, try to drum up some publicity for the new edition of Leah, and continue to proselytize over at Publishing Renaissance.

Endings are often awkward, but at least this is a happy ending.

December 22, 2008

Technology, Culture, and Writing Fiction

If you are writing stories set in the present day, as I am, then you’ve probably worried, as I have, about how to refer to (or ignore) information technology and all of the little electronic devices that we carry with us nowadays. Their ubiquity in modern culture causes the fiction writer at least two problems.

First, there is the problem of trying to keep up with technology. Things are changing so fast. Every day there is a new gadget or a new must-visit website, and every day some other gadget that was popular a few years ago falls into obsolescence, or yesterday’s cool website or web app is abandoned as users flock to the next big thing. Writing about young people, as I do, makes the problem even more difficult because fads and tastes change daily, and it is young people who are most likely to embrace whatever is new and fun. For example, when I revised The Spring for publication, I had to insert mp3s and mp3 players into the story in order to bring it up to date, but at the same time, I was careful not to call any character’s player an “iPod”. The iPod might be the dominant brand of mp3 player right now, but that could change in five years. When I mention technology in my stories, I’m careful not to mention specific brands. If I did, it would date the story and limit it to a specific period of time — even a specific year. I want to try to keep my stories as current and “present day” as possible. There will come a time when certain items and activities seem anachronisitic, but hopefully that’s still a while off.

Second, all of this new technology is changing the way people interact with each other. Yes, people still make friends or fight or fall in love, but the way that they do those things is changing. It feels like we’re in a transitional time — or maybe, from this point forward, the only cultural constant will be transition.

Technology wasn’t always moving so fast. Through most of the 20th century, if two people wanted to communicate with each other, they could write letters, speak on the telephone, or meet in person (by car or train or subway). Now, young people don’t write letters, they text each other. They don’t talk on the telephone, they use cell phones. And while face-to-face meetings are still popular (I hope), young people are just as likely to keep in touch with Facebook, MySpace, blogs, or through any number of the various social applications and websites. Their online existence bleeds into their offline existence. But once again, mentioning any of these specific devices or sites or activities by name is dangerous. Right now, Facebook rules supreme, but if (and when) a cooler, better site comes along, Facebook could be a ghost town in a few years. And already blogs and email are starting to seem old-fashioned. How much longer will WordPress last?

But telling a good story means placing human relationships front and center. Even in a story like Leah, which is about a girl who spends most of her time by herself, the relationships that she has — or tries to have — with the other characters is the most important thing. With technology changing culture, and culture changing the way that humans interact with each other, writers are under pressure to adapt how their characters interact with each other while still preserving the results of that interaction: the loving and fighting that has always been part of human culture and literature.

How has our technological culture influenced the way you construct your stories?

(This will probably be my last blog post until after Christmas. After Christmas, I will begin documenting the process of publishing a novel through Lulu. It should be fun. I hope everyone curious about self-publishing visits me again.)

December 14, 2008

AlphaInventions and Blogging Ethics

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:59 pm
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If you’re reading this post, you probably arrived through, the website which is rocking bloggers’ worlds by bringing them more readers than they ever dreamed possible.

I think my first encounter with AI occurred a couple of weeks ago. I posted to this blog and came back a couple hours later to discover that almost 20 people had visited my blog since I last checked in, and all of them were directed my way via something called Alpha Inventions. I don’t know who submitted my blog to AI (if it was you, thanks!).

On Friday, I came upon someone else’s blog who had written about the AI phenomenon, so on Saturday, I decided to perform an experiment to see how it worked. I wrote a post (it’s the post immediately below this one) — a modest, almost humdrum post, something that under normal circumstances wouldn’t attract a lot of hits, but within an hour after submitting my blog to AI, I had 17 visitors.


It's a dilemma!

But I felt guilty — maybe even a little dirty — about what I had done. I didn’t do anything deceitful; I didn’t trick anybody. I used AI the way it is meant to be used, but somehow it felt wrong, and I wondered, is it ethical to take advantage of AlphaInventions to boost one’s hit stats?

It’s not human inventions that are evil, it’s how humans choose to use their inventions that makes them sources of evil — or good. I rather like the AI site. I find it a little addictive because you never know what interesting blog is going to pop up next. Considering it purely in terms of a web application, I have only two complaints: the user interface is still a little rough and I wish I could adjust the speed at which the blogs pass by. Too often, I want to visit a blog that I see, but by the time I get my mouse cursor up to the link, it’s gone (why can’t I just click on the image of the blog that I see before me and be taken to the blog?).

So it’s not the site itself that causes me problems, it’s how it might be [ab]used. Is it all right to submit your own blog to AI for purely selfish, if not narcissistic reasons (“Hey look! 10000 people visited my blog in December! People love me!”)? Even murkier: what if a blogger has advertising on his site and wants to use AI to draw visitors, hoping that they will click on the links? Murkiest of all: what if one litters a blog with pornographic images, hate speech, or links to malware and then submits that blog to AI just to stir up trouble?

I suppose I have a rather naive view of blogging. I’d rather have visitors who visit this blog because they are interested in what I am doing here (do those of you who were brought here by AI even know what the purpose of “Revising Leah” is?). I’d almost rather have visitors brought here the old-fashioned way: by clicking on tags or through WordPress’s Tag Surfer function. I’d rather have visitors who care about what I’m doing here, because they are more likely to leave comments and engage in a conversation. Those are the visitors who I value the most.

Perhaps the best use of AlphaInventions would be to submit the blogs of other people. If you come across a blog or a post that knocks your socks off, that makes you think, “Everybody should see this!” then submit it and give that blogger the attention that he or she deserves. I will definitely be using AI for this purpose.

So what do you think? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Do you have any misgivings about using AlphaInventions?

November 22, 2008

Waiting . . . waiting . . . (Progress Report #12)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:07 pm
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After reading chapters at random for a couple weeks, I’ve been doing one more read-through of the whole novel. It will be the last read-through that I do until I receive the galley proof copy in January because what I’ve discovered as I’ve been reading through the story is that there really isn’t any more work for me to do. Sure, I make a few nit-picky changes and corrections in each chapter, but I’m not making any substantive changes. Essentially, the novel is finished.

There’s very little for me to do right now except wait until January. Why January? That’s when I want to start the publication process. In theory, I could log into Lulu in December and start it then, but I want the new edition of Leah to be published in 2009, so that’s why I’m waiting.

As I mentioned in another post, I’m way ahead of schedule, and that’s a problem, because I don’t know how I’m going to fill the time between the end of this month and the start of the new year. Since next week is Thanksgiving week — and since the final third of my novel is set during Thanksgiving week — I think what I’ll do is read the chapters set during that week on the appropriate days, starting with the second half of chapter 15 on November 23 (tomorrow) and concluding with the final chapter of the novel on November 30 December 1. In fact, it just occurred to me that the dates for November in 2008 correspond perfectly to the dates for November in the novel. That’s a pretty cool coincidence, and it should be a fun experience to read the story on the appropriate days. (Actually, this year’s schedule is one day earlier than the schedule in the novel.)

I also have a lot of time to work on the cover of the novel. I think I’ve made a decision about the design of the back cover, but I’m still having trouble writing the blurb. Blurbs are very tricky things to write. I have to do so much in such a small amount of space: the blurb must offer a summary of the novel that tells the reader what the story is about without giving too much away, and at the same time the summary must be compelling enough that it encourages someone to read the book. It’s really difficult to get it just right.

But the real problem is what should I do with this blog while I wait? The purpose of this blog has always been to serve as a sort of diary of my revision process. If I’m not working on my novel, then what do I have to write about? I could put this blog on hiatus until January (when I intend to document the publication process for folks who are interested in learning what is involved in self-publishing a novel — it can be a bit of a labyrinthine process). I’d rather not put this blog on hold, since I feel like I’d be losing momentum so close to publication, but I may not have any choice.

October 27, 2008

Oh Crap! I’m Almost Done!

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 5:10 pm
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I’m starting to think that my manuscript might be a lot closer to “completion” than I had previously thought. Over the weekend, I reread the “third act” of the novel and while I changed a few words and revised a few sentences, I really didn’t find a lot of work that needed to be done. In fact, that’s really all I’ve been doing: focusing on word choice, revising some sentences for clarity, and fixing some stray punctuation errors

My current revising strategy has been to convert my master document into a PDF document and read it that way. There are two advantages to doing that at this stage. First, because I cannot make changes to a PDF document, when I read the PDF version of my manuscript, I’m less likely to make superficial, unnecessary changes. I do keep my manuscript open in my word processor, just in case there is a correction that I do think is necessary, but the extra step of having to switch back and forth between programs discourages me from making changes just for the sake of making changes.

The other advantage is that a page from my PDF document looks similar to what the page would look like when the book is published — it’s as close as I can come to imagining what the finished, published novel will look like without actually printing it out. It’s a very different experience from looking at the manuscript in my word processor. As I said in the last post, a piece of writing like a novel is never really “finished,” but seeing the manuscript in PDF form does offer the illusion of completion. For me, when I see the manuscript in the word processor, it still feels like a work in progress and it seems to beckon me to make changes. When I see the manuscript in my PDF viewer, it looks like something static, like a published book, and that alters how I perceive the book’s progress.

But as the title for today’s post suggests, this situation causes a dilemma for me — several dilemmas, actually. When I started this blog back in April, I had a time line in mind for this revising project. I wanted it to be complete by the end of 2008 so that if I went the self-publishing route again, I could publish the novel in early 2009. Right now, I still have two months to go; even if I am 99 percent finished, I’m not going to to publish it until next year. So another problem I face is what I’m going to do with this blog for the next several weeks. I’ve been adding a new post every two or three days, but if there isn’t much revising left for me to do, then I’m not going to have much to write about. I might have to suspend this blog for a few weeks, and I’d rather not do that. I still have ideas for future posts (I have a backlog of drafts that I’m working on), but I don’t know if I can keep this going for two more months, until the publication process starts (and I’ll document that, too).

Of course, this isn’t really a terrible situation to be in. I’d definitely rather be ahead of schedule than feel like I still have a lot of major revisions to make.

September 29, 2008

Google Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 7:29 pm
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A few weeks ago, I mentioned that my blog has attracted an unexpectedly large amount of traffic from Google. People searching for information about the Egyptian pharaohs would discover that one of my blog entries appeared near the top of Google’s search results — never mind that this isn’t a blog about history or Egypt, and never mind that the blog entry in question offers only the most basic information about three pharaohs.

So a few weeks ago, I took steps to try to bury my blog so that it no longer appears to highly ranked when someone uses Google to search for information that really has nothing to do with the mission of this blog. What I’ve done is tinker with the title of the entry and delete a couple of tags. At first, those changes didn’t seem to have any effect, but I think the strategy is starting to pay off. If I do a search for, say, “what were the pharaohs buried with” — a topic Leah just barely touches upon in her report but a search query that has drawn a lot of Google users to my blog, now my blog doesn’t appear until page four. I know my blog won’t disappear completely from Google’s search results — and I wouldn’t want it to, but if I can bury my Egypt-related blog posts far enough down so that they don’t appear in the set of top results, then that’s a victory.

Some would say that any publicity is good publicity, but to me it is almost an ethical issue. For any of my blog posts to rank so highly in a search engine’s results for Egypt content gives the impression, as false as it may be, that I have somehow fooled Googlers into visiting this blog. I’d rather see a 30-40% drop in the number of visitors to this blog and at least know that those folks who do visit are doing so for the “right” reasons.

September 9, 2008

Fending Off the Google Hordes

For some reason which completely baffles me, the posts that I write in this blog describing Leah’s Egypt report for her history class tend to rank high in Google’s search results whenever someone searches for information about ancient Egypt, especially the Egyptian pharaohs. For example, when you search for a phrase like “pharaohs when they died,” one of my early blog posts is the second item in Google’s search results (I even rank higher than Yahoo Answers or Wikipedia). I first noticed this a couple of months ago, and I mentioned it in a previous blog post. In the beginning, I found it amusing, but now I just find it annoying and perhaps even harmful to the mission of this blog. Everyday, Google directs at least two or three searchers to my blog. Traffic is a good thing, but this isn’t the right kind of traffic because the people who Google is sending to me aren’t interested in my blog and they certainly aren’t interested in my novel. At most, they probably spend only a minute or two at this site — long enough to realize that what I’ve written isn’t useful for them, and I’m afraid some of them leave thinking that I have somehow tricked them into visiting this site, which isn’t the case at all.

It’s a good thing I’m not partnered with Google Adsense. I suspect that if I were, then every commercial link on this blog would have something to do with Egypt.

So I’m going to take action to try to discourage people from looking for info about ancient Egypt via my blog. The first thing that I’m going to try is to rename the title, and tinker with the tags, of the specific blog entries that receive the most Google hits. The title of my blog posts always appear in the Google search results, so I’m thinking that if I insert a little message indicating that they shouldn’t click on the link, maybe that will help. If anyone reading this post has other suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments. We’ll see what happens, and I’ll keep you updated.

June 16, 2008

The Influence of Egypt

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:19 am
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I’m fascinated by this blog’s stats. I like watching the daily roller coaster of tracked hits. Some days I get a lot of hits, other days nothing at all — and the roller coaster doesn’t necessarily conform to whether I have posted something new.

The most visited post in this blog — a post that even today still generates hits — is the early post titled “‘The Pharaohs of Egypt’ by Leah Nells”. The reason, as I just recently discovered, is that the post shows up highly ranked on Google. If you do a search for “why was food buried with pharaohs,” for example, my blog post is the second item on the list, which I think is bizarre.

It’s summer now, so kids are mostly out of school, but I wonder if, next fall, I might receive a spike in hits from kids doing research on Egypt. Although the material in the post is factually correct (as far as I know) it’s probably not the sort of thing that students would be looking for. Once they realize that this isn’t any sort of academic site, I imagine they return to Google’s search results to find another site.

But since the post does contain a complete — albeit brief — report on the Egyptian pharaohs, I suppose some visitors might be inclined to copy and paste it into their own assignments. If that did happen, I’m not sure what I would think. I suppose I would be more amused than anything. It is certainly an unintended consequence of this blog.

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