Friday, October 2, 2015

A Few Facts About Guns

Yesterday the country was shocked by another mass shooting.
Nine people were killed. Yes. Sadly. 
Of the 92 people killed by guns in the US yesterday, nine were in class at a community college in Oregon.

So we are talking about guns for the first time since nine people were killed at a prayer meeting in a church in South Carolina.

In between those two incidents, it’s likely that 9,584 people died of gunshot wounds in the United States.

I’m basing this on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. The numbers are from 2013, the most recent year available. 

For 2013, the CDC lists 33,636 gun deaths in the US.

In other words, the tragedies in Oregon and South Carolina that captured the nation’s attention occur ten times a day.

Usually, news sources quote a much lower figure: 11,208 gun deaths a year. Those are homicides. That’s 31 a day. 

Three times the Oregon shooting. Three times the South Carolina shooting. Today, and yesterday, and tomorrow, and forever.

According to the FBI, three-fourths of homicides are committed with guns. More than half are committed by someone the victim knows; 1 in 4 are committed by family members. One third of female homicide victims are killed by their husbands or boyfriends. 

In other words: an American is far more likely to be shot at home by a family member than in a public place by a deluded narcissist.

So what about the other 61 US gun deaths a day? A small proportion of those are accidents, a category that tends to get distributed among other categories. 
 But two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides. 

Many people, including the news media, are quick to brush the suicides aside as unimportant. The thinking is that “those people” were doomed anyway.

Research shows this is not true. Suicide is largely dependent on opportunity. The great majority of people who narrowly survive a suicide attempt never try again. And suicides attempted with guns are the most likely to be successful. 

I just wanted to put these facts out there. They tend to get lost in the noise.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Rabies Shots

So the final book in the Jinx trilogy,  Jinx’s Fire, comes out in just 20 days, and I’ll be doing some events (more to come later). I hope you’ll attend, and that you’ll come up and say hello. I promise not to bite… 

…and anyway, I’m getting rabies shots.

There seem to be two FAQ about rabies shots, which I would like to address here.

Q: Is it true they are given in the stomach every day for ten days with a needle as long as your arm, and are horribly painful?

A: No. It turns out they are given in your arm with an ordinary-sized needle, and they don’t hurt any more than an ordinary shot. And I’m having four of them over a period of two weeks, which is standard. (Immune-compromised people have five over the course of a month.)

Q: DId something bite you?

Not to my knowledge. But I’ve been sleeping for the past couple weeks in a room that has periodically filled with bats. Not cute little upstate New York bats, but big honking New England bats.

Because there is a very remote possibility of contracting rabies simply from sleeping in a batty room (i.e. it seems to happen about once every few years in the US) the public health officials in Rhode Island, where I’m staying right now, advise people to get rabies shots under these circumstances.

I don’t really think I need the shots, but the disease is nearly 100% preventable with the shots, and nearly 100% fatal without them. 

So prevention seems like the way to go.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How and why to cut words from your manuscript

I’ve just cut 2,800 words off my current work-in-progress, a middle grade novel with a tentative publication date in 2016. (Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins, working title: Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded.) My goal was to cut 3,000, so I nearly made it. 

When I first taught myself to cut words, I did it mainly to get my manuscripts down to industry standard for middle grade. (For fantasy, under 75,000 words; for other genres, under 65,000.) But I learned so much else from the process of word-cutting that I now use it to identify other issues. 

Cutting words is a good idea even if you’re not over wordcount, because it helps make your manuscript leaner, cleaner, and more like the stuff that gets published.

Here’s the procedure. 

  1. Decide how many words you want to cut.
  2. Print your manuscript.
  3. Divide the number of words you want to cut by the number of pages you’ve printed. In this case there were 202 pages, so my goal was to cut 15 words a page.
  4. Take a pen and try to hunt out the target number of words to delete on every single page. Write your score at the bottom of each page.

Keeping score is important, because it gives you an incentive to keep hunting out that one little extra word you can do away with it. (You probably won’t meet your goal on every page, so you’ll need to exceed it on some pages.)

Here are some of the cuts I made, and why I made them. Underlined words are words I added.

“We can’t buy dinner.”
“Why should you need to buy dinner?”

Deleting the unnecessary repetion cuts two words. Sometimes repetition serves a rhythmic purpose. This one doesn’t.

He waved them through toward a high arched hallway that opened beyond the office.

It doesn’t matter exactly where the hallway is, so those five extra words can go.
Changing “them through” to “toward” saves a word, but it also saves misunderstanding. He’s not waving them.

 With a sigh, she thought of Miss Ellicott.

As I made cuts, I discovered my protagonist was doing everything with a sigh. Sometimes she ended the sentence with a sigh, sometimes she began it with one. After this week’s cuts, only three sighs remain.

 The fact was it was a very big city.

“The fact was” over and over again in this draft! No longer.

She gestured broadly with her arm

Yeah, what else was she going to gesture with? I mean, the choices are fairly limited. There’s no need to say what she gestured with unless it was something really unusual. Someone else’s arm, for example.

There were pools of water here and there in hollows on the rock.

This is only a net reduction of one word, but it gets rid of the vague “here and there” and replaces it with something more specific.

It was pitch dark. She couldn’t see a thing.

Since the second sentence describes exactly what we would expect, it can go.

“So you’re spying on me, are you?” said Mrs. Walters, standing in front of stood before the fireplace, hands on hips.

This is one I did purely to reduce word count. I don’t think the changes I made in this sentence add anything stylistically. “Before” isn’t a better locative than “in front of”. It’s just shorter.

You can usually remove a dialogue tag (said X, X said, X asked, etc) if it’s immediately followed by an action. The point of dialogue tags is to identify the speaker. The action accomplishes this.

 Men and boys were everywhere, rolling barrels that rumbled along the docks, shouting and singing. They rolled barrels that rumbled along the the docks.

This one actually results in a net gain of one word. But I had to do it. As it was, the barrels, since they were already the subject of the verb “rumbled”,  appeared to be shouting and singing. While this would be interesting, it was not the image I wanted.

Besides the above examples, there were many whole sentences and even some paragraphs I removed simply because they described something that was already adequately described.

On my next round of cuts, which will probably follow my next revision and immediately precede submitting the manuscript to the publisher, I’m going to be looking for places where I’ve overexplained, not trusted the reader enough.

A round of cutting generally takes a week of full-time work.

Anyway, I thought the above might be interesting to some people.