Writing Other

After a holiday break (with a bit too much drinking, if there is such a thing), I’m back at editing my WIP, The Obsidian Pyramids. With some helpful feedback, I’m pushing toward the fourth draft.

One of the comments I received was a request to add a POV for one of the secondary characters. I was hesitant at first, but I’m giving it the old college try, and I think if it works, it can solve multiple problems with the MS.

As a quick aside, one of the things I’ve discovered about myself as a writer over my last two novels is this: I enjoy writing women characters much more than men. Am I good at it? Ha, lol, probably not. Though I do personally feel like my ladies are better than the boys, I’m very much a dude, and I probably don’t get it.

In my previous book, Daughters of Darkness, most of the characters were women. I was scared, figuring I would fuck it up, write ridiculous, unbelievable, or offensive characters. But I was pleased with how it turned out (even if lit agents seem to disagree with me). Now, as I look to add this new POV, I’m faced an even scarier proposition: writing the character I understand the least, and probably will get horribly wrong, forever shaming myself…

A popular, charismatic dude.

Seriously, I have no idea how these people work. I’m an enginerd, and I’ve recently learned that I’m probably mildly autistic. I have a PhD, I write algorithms to trade hundreds of millions of dollars in institutional money, but ask me to initiate a friendly conversation at a bar/party/whatever, I’m like, uh… I don’t… what?

So getting inside the head of this magically (in a literal sense) charismatic guy  is daunting. Fuck, even writing him from other character’s perspectives was scary and hard (and I’m not sure I succeeded).

I figure I’ll do what I always do in these situations: focus on the magic. Royne is a Charmer, which means his magical ability is to instinctually understand what other people want to hear, how to stroke their egos, how to connect with and impress them.

We’ll see how it goes.

No NaNoWriMo For Me

I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year, for the first time in several Novembers. Personally, I always looked at NaNoWriMo as a cute little thing, something to talk about on social media a bit. I’ve never been a fast writer or a binge writer, so I never came close to winning.

But I’ve also never (at least from a certain age) had a problem sticking with my writing and getting to the end of the draft, even if it took a little time. When I’m writing a first draft, I write six days a week, skipping very few schedule days during the drafting process. It usually takes me 5-6 months to produce a first draft in the range of 100k-120k words.

Last year, I made a mistake by forcing myself to start writing on Nov 1st. I clearly wasn’t ready, and should’ve spent another month or so on pre-writing. A mistake that’s led to more needed revision on the book – I’m currently finishing up the third draft. I’m trying to take my time and make sure I don’t rush things. Quality over speed for me these days, even if I feel a little impatient now and then.

For everyone that is participating, good luck this year and have fun.

 

A Million Words

I’m currently finishing up the second draft of my current WIP, The Obsidian Pyramids, still working to get better, still struggling to work through rejections and stay positive. I recently remembered the old adage, the first million words is practice, and I figured, once I hit a million words, I’ll magically become a great writer, yes?

Seems like I should be getting close, so I decided to run the numbers and see where I am.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a short story, but I used to do so more often, before I got into writing novels regularly. I don’t think I have copies of them all, so I just have to guess at how many words these count for. I’m going to say 50,000 total, though that might be a little conservative. But we’ll start there.

Current total: 50,000

My first attempt at writing a novel came when I was a senior in college. It didn’t go well. I stopped after 20,000 words and didn’t attempt another novel for almost 6 years.

I have three other unfinished novels, none of which I’ll ever return to. In more than one case, leaving the project was me acting strategically rather than simply quitting, so I think I should be able to count these in my total. My estimate is that those four incomplete projects account for about 75k words.

Current total: 125,000

Then we have my completed novels:

  • The Doorway: 105k
  • Starcatcher: 160k
  • The Book of Terrors: 180k
  • Wizard’s Curse (YA): 50k
  • Blood Price: 115k
  • Daughters of Darkness: 115k
  • The Obsidian Pyramids: 105k

 

Final total: 955,000 words. So close!!!

Next Round

Finally, at long last, the wait is over. It’s time for…

The next round of rejection. I mean querying.

I’ve spent the last couple months working on more edits for Daughters of Darkness (after several months of writing the book I’m now calling The Obsidian Pyramids), and I’m finally ready to send out the next round of submissions. My changes to the query were minimal, but I think it’s clearly stronger than the previous versions.

For anyone who’s curious, here’s the body of the query:

 

High Lady Iris LaRose always knew she would become one of the most influential women of the Dianic Empire – until her sister brought shame upon the entire family by harboring a failed assassin. After years of struggle to prove their love and commitment to the empire, Iris and her mother have nearly erased the family’s tainted past. Then Iris’s mother murders her daughter’s groom on the couple’s wedding day.

When Iris flees the scene, she’s accused of conspiracy by Empress Elena Flora, a woman with little sympathy left for the LaRose family. But Iris won’t believe that her mother is truly guilty – an imposter must be responsible. Faced with execution, Iris’s only option is to lie, claiming she can bring the imperial guard to her mother.

Her lie buys her just enough freedom to seek the hidden killer, but when answers prove difficult to find, she turns to the most unwelcome of allies: Violet Zino, a brash and charming pirate who can access the criminal underground.

As new assassinations threaten the stability of the empire, Iris and Violet uncover clues that lead them to a shadowy group called the Daughters of Darkness, women who plan to destroy the empire by replacing the empress with a saboteur. Now Iris must choose to risk her life and her freedom to save Elena Flora, or watch as the empire she loves crumbles.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, complete at 112,600 words, is high fantasy that will appeal to fans of The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks and The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, as it shares their adventurous tone and touch of irreverent humor.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

It’s a bit longer than I wanted – and quite a bit longer than the first draft – but I think this is the best possible version.

So I’m off to put together and send out those submissions. Then on to the initial reading of the first draft of The Obsidian Pyramids. No summer vacation for his writer.

Writing Ambitions

November will mark the ten year anniversary of the day I started writing The Doorway, the first novel I ever completed. I knew when I started it that I would never have a chance of getting it published – though I pretended that wasn’t the case as I wrote it. But I still had a great time writing it.

Over the years, I’ve become more and more serious about trying to get a book deal with one of the big publishers. It hasn’t gone like I’d hoped, but I’m working on it. I still enjoy writing, but I’ve found the rejection on my query submissions to be more painful than I’d like.

Recently, I came across an older blog post by one of my favorite authors, Mark Lawrence:

http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/writing-fail.html

Mark talks about failure in writing, and how difficult it is to become a successful author, especially at the level of a bestseller. His main point is that most writers will never reach the level of success they desire, and that writers should view anything they do as an accomplishment. You, if you’re a writer, shouldn’t allow yourself to fail, simply by not allowing yourself to feel like you’ve failed – no matter what.

This strikes me as wise, and good advice. And yet…

And yet I don’t believe I can ever view things this way. It just isn’t within my personality to think like that. I suppose that’s a weakness (and it really does lead to a lot of pain and disappointment), but it’s just how I operate.

I’m rather competitive and goal-oriented. I often set my goals high (too high?), but that’s how I motivate myself. I’m just not sure I can take the mentality that I’ve succeeded just by trying, just by writing, even if it’s the wise thing to do. Even if not doing so hurts me.

The best I can do, I think, is to believe that the rejections I get are more due to bad luck than my own failures, and keep going. Keep writing, keep submitting.

***

P.S. While Mark’s advised mentality may be good for writers, I would get eaten alive in my primary career if I adopted it.

P.P.S. If you haven’t read Mark Lawrence, and you like fantasy, I highly recommend Prince of Thorns. It’s a bit of a tough read for some people, but it’s worth it. It’s pretty unique within epic fantasy for it’s short length and consistent fast pace. The main character, Jorg Ancrath, is one of my favorite of all time – If you’ve read this, or do in the future, don’t judge me for that 🙂

A Closer Look at 3-pt Defense

markus_shot

Photo by Brian Georgeson

As the opening weekend of the big dance approaches, and Marquette is finally back in where it belongs, I wanted to dig into a stat that will be very relevant to us in Greenville, SC: 3-point defense.

Our first round matchup is against South Carolina, a team that sports one of the highest ranked 3-point defenses in the nation. I’ve seen some fans on #mubb twitter question whether this ranking is deserved, based in part on the relatively poor 3-point offenses in the SEC. I’ve been playing around with the 2017 NCAA Div 1 Men’s Basketball game data provided by Kaggle this week, so I thought I’d write some code to do a brief analysis on this subject.

My method is as follows: For each game a team played, compute:

  • Opponent’s 3-pt % for that game
  • Opponent’s season 3-pt % after removing games played against team of record

I can then compute basic stats on the differences between those paired quantities, and run a hypothesis test to determine how likely it is that any difference is due to chance.

In the tables farther down, I show the basic stats for the top 25 teams using 3 different rankings:

  • Team’s defensive 3-pt %
  • Average difference between opponent’s 3-pt % against team of record and rest of league
  • T-stat of that difference

The columns in each table are:

  • Team
  • Games played
  • Defensive 3-pt %
  • Average of difference for opponent’s 3-pt % (positive = better than average)
  • Standard deviation of difference for opponent’s 3-pt %
  • T-stat on paired differences
  • Bootstrap-resampled p-value on paired differences*

*Bootstrap resampled p-value is a randomized estimate of the p-value. This method is valuable when the sample size is fairly low. P-value refers to the probability that you might encounter a difference as large as the data, if the team’s defense was simply average. In this case, I’m computing a one-tailed test to determine if the team of record is capable of allowing a lower than average 3-pt %. Lower p-values indicate a higher level of confidence that the team is better than average at 3-pt defense.

One other note: as I said, the data comes from Kaggle, and though I assume it’s clean, I can’t be sure there are no errors. I see slight discrepancies between my 3-pt defensive numbers and kenpom.com, so the data may not be perfect.

A couple observations: South Carolina’s 3-pt defense does appear to be better than average, but probably not quite as good as advertised. They are ranked 6th in defensive %, 13th in opponent’s difference %, and 42nd in statistical significance. The lower ranking in significance comes from a higher variance in defensive % from game-to-game, and suggests some of their outperformance may be due to luck. But look who’s highly ranked in all 3 categories (#1 in difference): Duke, a potential second round matchup for Marquette.

(Also, we suck at this aspect of the game. No surprise there.)

Here are the ranked data:

Table I – Ranked by lowest 3-pt defensive %

Rank Team Games OppAvg Diff Stdev T-stat P-value
1 Morgan St 29 28.0% 5.4% 10.3% 2.822 0.0009
2 Rhode Island 33 29.1% 5.8% 10.9% 3.053 0.0005
3 NC Central 30 29.2% 3.9% 12.0% 1.770 0.0382
4 New Mexico St 30 29.8% 4.2% 11.7% 1.975 0.0224
5 Arizona 34 29.9% 5.9% 9.0% 3.808 0.0002
6 South Carolina 31 29.9% 4.6% 15.8% 1.627 0.0496
7 Duke 35 29.9% 6.4% 12.0% 3.140 0.0008
8 Gonzaga 33 30.0% 6.0% 11.1% 3.122 0.0008
9 Alcorn St 29 30.1% 2.8% 11.2% 1.326 0.0933
10 Wichita St 33 30.1% 5.5% 11.6% 2.719 0.0028
11 Minnesota 33 30.3% 5.5% 11.9% 2.658 0.0050
12 Robert Morris 33 30.4% 3.9% 11.7% 1.928 0.0241
13 Nevada 34 30.5% 4.4% 10.6% 2.428 0.0072
14 Louisville 32 30.6% 6.2% 11.1% 3.144 0.0011
15 St Mary’s CA 32 30.7% 5.1% 9.4% 3.084 0.0011
16 Col Charleston 33 30.7% 3.8% 9.0% 2.444 0.0048
17 Florida 32 30.8% 4.1% 10.0% 2.319 0.0065
18 New Orleans 28 30.8% 4.2% 8.6% 2.591 0.0040
19 FL Gulf Coast 30 31.0% 4.9% 9.0% 2.999 0.0011
20 Villanova 34 31.1% 5.5% 7.8% 4.153 0.0000
21 Colorado St 32 31.1% 3.9% 11.4% 1.918 0.0327
22 Seattle 27 31.1% 2.9% 10.8% 1.395 0.0771
23 Illinois St 32 31.1% 4.7% 7.9% 3.368 0.0003
24 Winthrop 30 31.2% 4.6% 10.8% 2.323 0.0092
25 Furman 30 31.5% 4.0% 9.2% 2.377 0.0070
284 Marquette 31 37.0% -1.9% 11.9% -0.885 0.8154

 

Table II – Ranked by biggest opponent’s difference

Rank Team Games OppAvg Diff Stdev T-stat P-value
1 Duke 35 29.9% 6.4% 12.0% 3.140 0.0008
2 Louisville 32 30.6% 6.2% 11.1% 3.144 0.0011
3 Gonzaga 33 30.0% 6.0% 11.1% 3.122 0.0008
4 Arizona 34 29.9% 5.9% 9.0% 3.808 0.0002
5 Rhode Island 33 29.1% 5.8% 10.9% 3.053 0.0005
6 Villanova 34 31.1% 5.5% 7.8% 4.153 0.0000
7 Minnesota 33 30.3% 5.5% 11.9% 2.658 0.0050
8 Wichita St 33 30.1% 5.5% 11.6% 2.719 0.0028
9 Morgan St 29 28.0% 5.4% 10.3% 2.822 0.0009
10 St Mary’s CA 32 30.7% 5.1% 9.4% 3.084 0.0011
11 FL Gulf Coast 30 31.0% 4.9% 9.0% 2.999 0.0011
12 Illinois St 32 31.1% 4.7% 7.9% 3.368 0.0003
13 South Carolina 31 29.9% 4.6% 15.8% 1.627 0.0496
14 Virginia 32 31.6% 4.6% 12.2% 2.146 0.0169
15 Winthrop 30 31.2% 4.6% 10.8% 2.323 0.0092
16 Nevada 34 30.5% 4.4% 10.6% 2.428 0.0072
17 New Mexico St 30 29.8% 4.2% 11.7% 1.975 0.0224
18 New Orleans 28 30.8% 4.2% 8.6% 2.591 0.0040
19 BYU 33 32.2% 4.1% 11.2% 2.111 0.0182
20 Florida 32 30.8% 4.1% 10.0% 2.319 0.0065
21 Baylor 31 31.6% 4.0% 9.9% 2.251 0.0123
22 Furman 30 31.5% 4.0% 9.2% 2.377 0.0070
23 Robert Morris 33 30.4% 3.9% 11.7% 1.928 0.0241
24 NC Central 30 29.2% 3.9% 12.0% 1.770 0.0382
25 Colorado St 32 31.1% 3.9% 11.4% 1.918 0.0327
267 Marquette 31 37.0% -1.9% 11.9% -0.885 0.8154

 

Table III – Ranked by strongest statistical significance

Rank Team Games OppAvg Diff Stdev T-stat P-value
1 Villanova 34 31.1% 5.5% 7.8% 4.153 0.0000
2 Arizona 34 29.9% 5.9% 9.0% 3.808 0.0002
3 Illinois St 32 31.1% 4.7% 7.9% 3.368 0.0003
4 Louisville 32 30.6% 6.2% 11.1% 3.144 0.0011
5 Duke 35 29.9% 6.4% 12.0% 3.140 0.0008
6 Gonzaga 33 30.0% 6.0% 11.1% 3.122 0.0008
7 St Mary’s CA 32 30.7% 5.1% 9.4% 3.084 0.0011
8 Rhode Island 33 29.1% 5.8% 10.9% 3.053 0.0005
9 FL Gulf Coast 30 31.0% 4.9% 9.0% 2.999 0.0011
10 Morgan St 29 28.0% 5.4% 10.3% 2.822 0.0009
11 Wichita St 33 30.1% 5.5% 11.6% 2.719 0.0028
12 Minnesota 33 30.3% 5.5% 11.9% 2.658 0.0050
13 New Orleans 28 30.8% 4.2% 8.6% 2.591 0.0040
14 Col Charleston 33 30.7% 3.8% 9.0% 2.444 0.0048
15 Nevada 34 30.5% 4.4% 10.6% 2.428 0.0072
16 Furman 30 31.5% 4.0% 9.2% 2.377 0.0070
17 Winthrop 30 31.2% 4.6% 10.8% 2.323 0.0092
18 Florida 32 30.8% 4.1% 10.0% 2.319 0.0065
19 Wyoming 30 32.1% 3.0% 7.0% 2.310 0.0096
20 Baylor 31 31.6% 4.0% 9.9% 2.251 0.0123
21 St Peter’s 32 31.9% 3.2% 8.2% 2.221 0.0119
22 Virginia 32 31.6% 4.6% 12.2% 2.146 0.0169
23 BYU 33 32.2% 4.1% 11.2% 2.111 0.0182
24 Oregon 33 31.9% 3.7% 10.2% 2.067 0.0209
25 Texas 33 32.6% 3.8% 10.5% 2.052 0.0206
42 South Carolina 31 29.9% 4.6% 15.8% 1.627 0.0496
266 Marquette 31 37.0% -1.9% 11.9% -0.885 0.8154

 

 

How Many is Too Many?

The other day I saw a brief Twitter thread by one of the editors I follow (she works at Tor). She tweeted about the number of POV characters in a manuscript, and how it becomes difficult for the author to manage them all as the number increases – this is assuming third person limited, though she mentioned third person omniscient as a different issue. As an aside, I’ve never been a fan of the third person omniscient head-hopping style. Kids, don’t write this kind of perspective. Just say no.

Said editor says she worries when the author writes more than 4 POV characters. The main risk, she explained, is that it’s tough to differentiate between them. The reader should be able to identify the POV in any given scene by the narrative voice. This is challenging, and I personally think that many great novels exist where this just isn’t the case. But this is something that I strive for, and has been one of my main focuses for improvement over the last 3 books I’ve worked on.

In may last finished MS, Daughters of Darkness, I went with 5 POV characters (eek!). This was the first time I wrote more than 3, and I was worried about this issue. When I started, I thought there was a significant chance I would have to cut one of those (her name is Talia Soren) – not cut her out of the book, I mean, just cut her perspective. But I think (I’m a little biased here guys) it worked out well, and the personal editor inside my head said I didn’t need to cut anyone. Still, 5 is a lot for a 112k word novel.

With current WIP, I originally decided on 5 again, but as I wrote through Act I, I started to wonder about one of those characters (her name is Maria Fonseca). And as it turns out, the day before I was supposed to write the first chapter from her POV, I saw these tweets. I revisited my thoughts about this character, and eventually decided it was best to use her strictly as a non-POV character. The MS is already getting longer than I wanted, and I didn’t feel like I had a clear narrative arc in store for her, so I think cutting her makes sense from many angles.

And it gets me down to the magic number of 4 POV’s! Yippee!

I think using more than 2 or 3 POV characters can add a lot to a novel in terms of range, but it is challenging to maintain the necessary differentiation. As I talked about in a post earlier, one of my preferred tricks is to focus on a different voice for each character by picking different tag words and phrases for each. For me, this mostly comes down to the different curses 🙂

Anyway, work on my current WIP continues at a steady but slow pace. I broke the 50k word barrier today, and right now I’m projecting a finished 1st draft of around 150k. Longer than I wanted, but I’m working toward making this story truly epic – this is meant to be the first book in a series (How many books planned for this series? I got no idea at this point. Lots, perhaps?). I’m hoping to finish the 1st draft before June, but we shall see…