The 130,000-Calorie Novel

I write and exercise best in intervals. Several consecutive hours of writing would exhaust me, and whenever I’m on an exercise machine, I’m painfully aware of the remaining minutes. This makes it tough to write books and stay fit.


The writing chair. It’s real nice.

Now that I’m writing the BELL WEATHER sequel, my workday goal is 1,000 written words and 1,000 burned calories. We’ve had this cheap but durable (and dead silent) exercise bike for more than a year. I keep it near my writing chair during the day. The new routine is to write a few hundred words in one go, and then ride off the equivalent number of calories on the bike.

So if I write 333 words and need to clear my head, I ride until I’ve burned 333 calories. Then I drink some water and coffee and write more words. I listen to WCDB or KEXP, and sometimes Beats. Our dog Bones sleeps beside me when he isn’t guarding the front window.

A thousand is a good number for me. Simple and round, it’s easy to compute when measuring progress. I can ballpark how long my draft is going to be, so I can ballpark how long it’ll take me to finish. And a thousand daily words is a solid pace, a respectable challenge (especially because I write slowly, even during first drafts) that isn’t overwhelming. If I write fewer than a thousand words a day, I feel lazy. When I’ve tried committing to more than a thousand, I’ve burned out or felt rushed.

The bike. It is cheap but durable.

The bike. It is cheap but durable.

Plus a thousand calories on the bike gets my Fitbit step count up to 10,000 — that gold standard of minimum daily steps, as established by some apocryphal study of Japanese health. Ten-thousand steps isn’t a magic number, but it’s about 7,000 steps more than I would usually take, bumming around the house between the library and the kitchen.

I estimate this draft will run approximately 130K words. By the time I’m done, I’ll have burned 130K calories on the bike, which is the equivalent of:

  • 394 peanut butter sandwiches, or…
  • 962 extra-large bananas, or…
  • 1,857 Oreo cookies

Book gets fatter, Dennis gets leaner, and my workdays are much more productive and enjoyable.

Station Eleven

11An apocalypse novel that’s more love letter than death wish. The pandemic’s depiction is chilling, and the visions of life before and after are vivid and heartrending. I loved how the story jumped from hints of disaster to global ruin in a quick thirty pages, then alternated back and forth, allowing the past and future to coexist, just as they coexisted in the minds of the survivors. Nostalgic quiet hangs over everything. It made me want to hang onto things more, and made me feel better about letting things go. Sad, wonderful book.

Bach on Mandolin

Writing: A scattered week, but I made some decent headway — enough so that I don’t feel stressed today.

Nature: Waiting for the wet yard leaves to sun-dry so I can mulch them with the lawnmower.

Personal: I drank a glass of imperial pumpkin stout, and it tasted like pumpkin pie with a graham cracker crust, and nutmeg, and vanilla, and hints of chocolate, and some kind of holiday cookie with cream, all melted together into a beer, and it was just too much and I really wouldn’t recommend it.

Voracious Support

Bellweather REDO author send

Click Image to Preorder

To my dear Rabid Fans with literary froth dripping from your lovely, pearly white fangs:

In an effort to better engage with you all in the buildup to BELL WEATHER’s release, I’m upping my social media game and hope you’ll join me.

I have a new official Facebook page. Please hop over and click “Like”.

My Twitter account is getting more active, and you can follow me at @Giganticide.

And please consider adding BELL WEATHER to your “To-Read” list at Goodreads.

Your continued Voracious Support is most appreciated.



Here’s the gorgeous cover for my novel BELL WEATHER, coming July 7, 2015 from Henry Holt.

Bell Weather


Copyedits, Plots & Sequels

editsI spent the week copyediting BELL WEATHER and I’m almost done. Once I mail the manuscript back on Monday, I’ll begin plotting the sequel.

BW is the first novel I ever carefully plotted. I did something called The Scheherazade Experiment and the process worked beautifully for me. The story felt more organic than one without a plot; why not take more chances, and follow more instincts and blind alleys, when it’s only a mess of notes? When I began the actual writing, I was able to focus on the language and storytelling techniques more than on the plot.

But the plotting phase is intensive. I’ll be working out a high-level outline, a brief summary of each chapter, and then a detailed description of each chapter — so detailed that the notes are virtually a first draft. It’ll take all fall, maybe longer.

Other news: Holt commissioned my dear friend Melissa to draw the two maps that will be included with the book, and she’s doing marvelous work. I also signed off on the final cover design. It’s gorgeous. I’m not allowed to share it until November, but here’s a 50×50-pixel sample:



Fictional Words in BELL WEATHER

The copyeditor of my next novel, BELL WEATHER, listed all of the book’s proper nouns and invented words as a reference guide for future proofreading. Here’s one-tenth of them:

  • Aquarians
  • beesmyrrh
  • Bell, Molly
  • bird crabs
  • bloodpox
  • Bread Riot Massacre
  • candlefruit
  • craven (bird)
  • deadfall (season)
  • Dick’s Fortune
  • Elkinaki (tribe)
  • ember gourds
  • hoarfur
  • hummingbats
  • knotgut
  • Lumen Night
  • lunarite
  • Maimers, the
  • merryweather tea
  • mourningfish
  • nyx
  • Orange, Tom
  • Pike’s Salty Herring
  • quicksummer
  • Scabbard Island
  • shadowplants
  • smoakwood
  • song bees
  • St. Verna’s Fire
  • suicide weeds
  • upfall
  • waterbreath
  • winterbear


A few updates on my next novel, BELL WEATHER:

— Holt will publish the book in July 2015. The tentative date is 7/7.

— It’s more or less done. I have a copy-editing round coming up, during which I will correct lots of stupid errors I failed to catch in my own many read-throughs.

— We’re considering cover-design options. I’ll post the finalized cover here as soon as I’m able.

—  My agent and editor are Men of Worth.

— I’ll begin working on the sequel this September.


Aside from my increasing interest in vinyl, the following quote speaks to my now abandoned hobby of growing giant pumpkins, as well as my never to be abandoned writing of novels:

For the truly compulsive hobbyist, there comes a time when a collection gathers weight — metaphysical, existential weight. It becomes as much a source of anxiety as of joy.

Source: The Brazilian Bus Magnate Who’s Buying Up All the World’s Vinyl Records



Writing with a quill is hard. Plus I’m a lefty and write with the devil’s hand, so it’s extra hard not to smear that ink. Better I’m writing about the 18th Century than in it.



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