Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Week That Was

Basically it was a terrible week. The first two days were okay but then I was distracted by the review. More trouble came in the form of computer hell. Internet Explorer and other things on my Start menu stopped working. Here is a secret about me. It’s not thrilling. It’s a character flaw. When something goes wrong with my computer I can’t let go until I fix it. I think of nothing else. I wish I was this obsessive about writing.

I tried calling you know who and the annoying customer service woman told me I’d have to pay. Oh, no. So I looked for a program that might help me. Found one. It didn’t help that, but I got back my system sounds, which I’d lost about a month ago. The good news is that my computer problem didn’t affect my Word program so I can continue writing. Well, I guess it’s good news. If it had affected my writing program I would’ve had to get a new computer (this is the way I think) and then it would’ve taken me days to transfer and install stuff. No writing. Actually I’m glad that didn’t happen because I have no time to waste with this book.

On Friday Mr. Cooper did something I didn’t expect and would never have thought he was capable of doing. So now I’m not exactly in a hole, but I’m not sure where I’m going next. I don’t like that feeling. And, yes, I’m still glad I don’t have an outline.

Did you know one is now told in their contract how many words you have to have? In this first draft I’m going to come up short so that I’ll have to make it up in the rewrite. This disturbs me because I never want to put in filler. I’ve spent my whole career learning how to write lean and mean. And I think I’ve accomplished that now. But if I have to get to the right word count by adding unnecessary words it will make me unhappy. This trend to get writers to make their books bigger is terrible, I think. When my agent was negotiating my contract she (at my request) got the publisher to come down in the count by 15 thousand words.

Once again I dread Monday. As for the computer problem I’ve learned that I can live with it. When the book is finished I will get a new computer because it’s my reward. You have to give yourself rewards. I know, the finishing of the book is a reward in itself along with an acceptance and the next payment. Too bad. I want a new computer.


Bullfighter said...

I 100% vote for the satisfaction of a new computer. Just gave a custom built desktop to myself for Christmas and have been cheering ever since. Next comes the notebook. :)

Sarah said...

Michael Connelly writes each book on a fresh computer, so I think getting a new one after several years seems like ample reward to me.

And I don't think the word count thing is that new -- doesn't it date back to the days of early category romances, when such things were explicitly specified? Different thing of course but then I'm not really sure why "bigger" is better anyway.

dunsany said...

I am a computer expert... but when I write, I use a Macintosh. I could probably fix any Windoze problems I have in a just a few minutes but it would break my writing flow... so when I started on my second manuscript, I bought a Powerbook and never looked back.

David J. Montgomery said...

It's strange that the publisher would pressure you to make your book longer. I would rather have a book be too short than too long. Too long is death for a mystery or thriller.

When I'm deciding what book to read next for possible review, I'm much more likely to choose a shorter book than a longer one, all else being equal. Time is nearly always a factor, and I'm frequently reading on deadline, so a shorter book has that much more to recommend it.

I will almost never read a book that is substantially longer than 400 pages, unless I'm already familiar with the author or have some other particular reason to give it a try. Nearly always, the book is padded out and drags.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I wasn't asked to make my book one of those fat padded things. I was given a word count, which surprised me as I'd never had that happen before. The word count I ended up with was 80,000. I don't think anyone who reads it will feel that there are too many words.

Lee Goldberg said...

My contracts all say 80,000, too, but my publisher has never held me to that... or anything close to it. Typically, my Diagnosis Murder books come in between 60-68,000 words. And no matter how many words I write, the books are always the same number of pages...they just adjust the size of the type. My last book should have come bundled with an electron microscope.

JD Rhoades said...

I have the solution to your IE woes...the Firefox Browser. Built in pop up blockers, for one thing. But the best thing about it is "tabbed" browsing. You can select for a new page to open, not in a new window, but in a "tab" with a little file-tab marker at the top of the screen. So you can swtich back and forth between pages. Very useful for blogging and posting on message boards.

But it does sound like your computer is getting to that point where stuff is tangled up way down in the guts of the operating system, with bits of old programs mysteriously interfering with new, with unpredictable results. At that point, a new one is the only answer. At least that's what I tell my wife :-)

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I'm using Firefox now. But it won't allow me to do a few things I want to do. Also not being able to use the other parts of my computer like control panel, etc. is very annoying. Still, I have to wait to do anything about it until I finish this book. Thanks for the support.

ACHILLE said...

Nice blog. Have you seen your google rating? BlogFlux It's Free and you can add a Little Script to your site that will tell everyone your ranking. I think yours was a 3. I guess you'll have to check it out.

Computer News
In search of the best, outperform more popular Web engines

Even as they become more savvy, the Internet's leading search engines still sometimes bog down in befuddlement when a specific kernel of knowledge is sought.

Hoping to fill the gap, (from GuruNet Corp.) and (from Ask Jeeves Inc.) have pledged to provide more adept responses to vexing but straightforward questions about history, science, geography, pop culture and sports.

Both search engines aim to provide a correct answer explicitly at the top of a search's first results page -- or with a highly placed link to a Web page that contains the information.

Their mission raises a question: Just how knowledgeable are these search engines?

To find out, I staged a very unscientific test consisting of questions culled from a recent edition of Trivial Pursuit.

My mock game pitted the avowed prowess of and against the Internet's most widely used search engines -- Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN.

The findings: and appear to be a small step ahead of Google and noticeably smarter than Yahoo and MSN when dealing with such esoteric questions as "What glass beads are created when a meteorite strikes the Earth's surface?"

Both and guided me to the correct answer (tektites) with the first link on the results page -- an aptitude that both sites displayed with 10 of the 20 questions posed in the theoretical game. When they didn't get the answer with the very first link in response to some questions, both search engines generally came through within the next two links.

Although they performed similarly in our game, and rely on different formulas. relies on a combination of Google's search engine and human editors who have stoked its database with answers to frequently asked questions that they've obtained by poring through reference materials., part of a Web family about to be acquired by e-commerce conglomerate InterActiveCorp for $2 billion, has devised a fully automated approach that fishes through the Internet's sea of information.

Although they are superior to the other search engines at this task, and rarely realized their ultimate goal -- making things as clear-cut as possible by summarizing the correct response at the very top of the results page so it wouldn't be necessary to click on a link and peruse another Web site. spit out a concise "Web answer" in just two of the 20 questions, while the only time that delivered was when I sought the definition of "googol." (It's the number one followed by 100 zeros.)

Google, which drew its name from that mathematical term, fared reasonably well in the competition. The Internet's most popular search engine came up with the correct answer on the first link in eight of the 20 questions (including the one about tektites). That's something Yahoo did just five times and MSN only twice.

None of the sites was omniscient., and Google each drew blanks on three questions (I considered it a miss if a link to the correct answer didn't appear within the first three pages of results). Yahoo and MSN each whiffed on six questions.

There was only one question that baffled all the search engines, "Who was the first Cuban defector to play in Major League Baseball?" Although they all contained references to him in their indexes, none of the search engines could figure out it was Rene Arocha, a pitcher who first signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in the early 1990s.

Though it lagged behind the other search engines in this competition, MSN looked brilliant on one question that stumped all the other search engines: What company was acquired in the biggest leveraged buy-out deal of all time? The first link on MSN's results page took me to a site that correctly listed RJR Nabisco.

The test also revealed the disadvantage of depending on search engines -- they sometimes point to sites with conflicting answers.

This occurred most frequently when I asked how many viewers watched the series finale of the TV show M*A*S*H. The search engines pointed to Web sites that variously listed the audience at anywhere from 105.9 million to nearly 125 million. Trivial Pursuit lists the answer as 121.6 million.

To paraphrase M*A*S*H's theme song, searching for online answers still isn't painless.

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