Friday, September 19, 2014

Writing Progress Report ... Hazard

I've had Laec whispering in my ear for weeks now, and while I've tried to ignore him so I could wrap up work on the house, a rainy Tuesday and a little atmospheric music conspired to lead me back to my keyboard. Reading through the first three chapters of Hazard and my notes/outline for the book, I realized it was Time.

The funny thing is, I haven't even been reading the past few months, which isn't like me since I normally devour a book a night when my insomnia kicks in. I guess I've just been too tired lately, what with all the physical labor going on around here. Head hits pillow, head falls asleep. But I picked up my kindle the other day and discovered I had three new pre-orders from some of my favorite authors waiting for me. I don't know if that was the shove I needed to get back to my own writing, but I opened the file for Hazard, tweaked my outline, and banged out the first chapter in months.

And when I say banged, that pretty much sums it up. The brain is like any muscle in your body--if you don't use it for awhile, it atrophies. Which means writing those first few pages after a long absence is like stepping into the gym after months of sitting on your ass. You have to work the kinks out of your writing muscles, get back into the flow. I remember I stopped writing at a transition point--I had the opening set up, knew where I was ultimately going, but hadn't figured out how to ease into it. Transitions are a pain to get right. Anyone who follows sequential TV series recognizes the Set Up Episode. You watch it and feel like you've just wasted an hour because nothing really happened, but those scenes are critical to the story and one of the hardest things to master. It's a question of balance--you need to impart important information without boring the reader or conking them over the head with the obvious, "HEY, STUFF IS GOING TO START HAPPENING IN A MINUTE AND YOU NEED TO KNOW WHY."

I must have rewritten the first couple of paragraphs ten times before I realized, who cares? Just get it all down now, you can edit it later.

So Laec is off and running again toward his latest misadventure. I'm not making any promises as to when I'll get him there. The daytime writing job that pays the bills has its ebbs and flows, and I'm suddenly in a flow right now, but I've promised myself to pull out the netbook each night and try to get an hour of writing in before I conk out. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Where Oh Where Has My Writer Muse Been?

That title may be misleading. I have no idea if my Muse has forsaken me, been eaten by rabid monkeys, or just taken an extended trip to the Bahamas since I haven't even attempted to rouse her in so long the thought alone is shrouded in cobwebs. The truth is, for the past three-plus months, I've been ass-deep in Renovation Hell. Yes, I finally broke down and took the homeowner plunge. Again. Who knows, maybe the seventh time will be the charm.

Those of you who know me may be aware that I'm something of an old house buff, though truth be told, it's an obsession that began out of necessity rather than any desire to court history. When you raise three kids by yourself on a shoestring budget, you can't afford anything but old fixer-uppers. You also can't afford to have anyone else do the fixing up, so you learn to do it yourself. I was fortunate in that my dad was also a self-taught fixer-upper who knew how to do just about everything and passed his knowledge and expertise on to a very eager-to-learn me.

That being said, after my last foray into home ownership, during which I was foolish enough to try to sell at the height of the housing recession, an act that took three years and cost me $50K in losses, I swore off home ownership for life.


Just like my other obsession, antique roses. once you get a taste of it, you can't stay away forever. (I had an old gardener once tell me when a rose tastes your blood, it has you for life. Which, I guess makes them the vampires of the plant world. That's why I stay away from them completely now. That was one hobby that went from two antique roses in an urban front yard to a country acre stuffed with over 600. Believe me, Dracula has nothing on roses.)

So why the change of heart? For one thing, I got tired of staring at white walls and not being able to do whatever I wanted with my surroundings. That just doesn't appeal to the bohemian-gypsy-hoarder in me. And while I love, love, love old bungalows, the starving artist budget wasn't there for one at today's prices. So this time it's a manufactured home, which also has the advantage of being easier to maintain. That's a major plus for me, since these old bones aren't as strong as they used to be--something I've been made painfully aware of during this renovation. An added bonus is the location--it's on a canal that leads to a river that leads to the Gulf of Mexico just a short mile away. I've always wanted to live on the water but being a Floridian, didn't relish the thought of being evacuated every time the sea gods decided to get frisky. That makes this the best of both worlds.

That still didn't stop me from tearing the place down to the studs and moving/removing every wall in the place to remake it in my own image of salvaged, wabi-sabi imperfection. And now after three months of non-stop destruction/construction, I will be moving into my new digs this weekend.

So what does that mean for my writing? Well, for one thing, I can finally get back to it. I've picked out the perfect location for my desk--in front of a window that overlooks the water. How inspirational is that? And hopefully, after I get settled in, I'll be stopping by this blog more often, and--fingers crossed--laying down some serious wordsmithing on the third book of the Erebus Files. Laec and the crew have been pounding around in my head for weeks, telling me my days of denial are coming to an end. No promises here, but I might get something cranked out by the end of the year.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Equality--like racism--is a two-way street

For decades we have strived as a nation to dissolve the racial barriers, so equality exists for all races in this country. We are all aware of instances where overt racism is vilified in the media, and rightly so, especially when that behavior occurs in the public eye. However, it seems more and more that the condemnation of this behavior is a one-way street.

This morning I read about a phenomenon called Black Twitter, a corner of the Twitterverse devoted to the concerns of black people. Okay, fine, I have no problem with that. But I can hear the public outcry already if someone created a White Twitter. It's a double standard that has to change if we are ever to become a society that is truly racially-transparent.

If you want equality, going out of your way to point out how you are different or special or persecuted as a group is not the way to get it. You can't have it both ways. It's an all-in proposition. You don't get to pick and choose which parts you like. You can't say, I want to be equal in this regard but special in that one. You're either part of the whole, or you're separate, and thus open for separate treatment. And you damn sure can't expect to be treated as special because of that difference.

This applies to all aspects of differences--race, gender, religion, etc. I remember the whole Affirmative Action debate back in the day. As a woman, I saw aspects of it firsthand back in the 80s. I saw men who were less qualified than me making more money doing the same job because, as my supervisor told me behind closed doors (where there were no witnesses to his mysogynistic behavior) the men were supporting a family. Well, so was I. Three kids as a single mother, though according to him that meant I should be home with them and a husband. None of which should have had any bearing on our ability to do the job.

In that instance, I did not want special treatment. I wanted equal treatment. I wanted to be paid the same amount to do the same job and be held to the same standards. Not different standards. Not special standards. I didn't want any standards lowered or changed for me. I just wanted to compete on a level playing field.

And that's what equality means in a nutshell. You are treated the same as everyone else and held to the same standards and rules as anyone else. If it's good for one, it's good for all, and vice versa.

But that's not how it is. I don't want to get into a racial debate, but there is a double standard here. When a white person says something offensive or disparaging against black people, it's racism. When a black person does it, it's excused as part of their culture. Comedians get away with this all the time. Black comedians constantly berate or insult white people as a whole and it's humor. If a white comedian stood on stage and insulted black people as a whole, he'd be publicly condemned as a racist.

This isn't about swinging the pendulum back to center. You can't change the events of the past by over-correcting in the present. What's done is done. Everyone knows how black people were treated in this country prior to the Civil Rights movement. It was a crime against humanity, just as the way the Native Americans were driven from their own country and the Jews were rounded up and persecuted in Nazi Germany. Personally, I don't think you can even compare the treatment of slaves with those two examples, especially not the Jews. I visited Dachau as a kid--that's a level of human depravity that most people can't even comprehend.

The point is, what's done is done. We can't change the past, we can only improve the future. As a nation, as a world, it is our duty as human beings to see that all people are treated equally and fairly. Not special. Not held to some double standard. You want equality, then you deal with the good and the bad of it. You can't cry foul when someone else does something that you believe you should be allowed to do. You want to claim discrimination or be offended by something, then hold yourself to the same standard. The problem with this country is, there is too much "Do as I say, not as I do" behavior.

Personally, I blame "political correctness" for a lot of this, which has just become a shield for double standard behavior. Not everything said is meant to be a personal attack on your race, gender, religion, or sensibilities. That being said, I'm a little tired of having to walk on eggshells for fear of offending someone who believes they shouldn't be held to the same standard. If it's good for one, it's good for all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Still Alive

I thought I might drop by here and do some housecleaning. Dust and mop, clear the cobwebs. I know I haven't been around much of late, but I've been busy doing my artsy thing and urban survival training (aka, scrounging up paying work).

Life is tough for us artistic types. Especially those who, like me, don't write mainstream or mass appeal fiction, don't care to walk the corporate line, and like challenges to be more about creativity than money. Yeah, I need the green stuff to live, but sincerely wish life could happen without it. What can I say, I'm a simple gal at heart.

Good intentions aside, I just wanted to give a status report. No, I haven't been writing lately. Not since NaNoWriMo ended, to be honest. Instead I've been channeling my creative energy into my Etsy store, NidoBeato (blissful nest in Italian) Creations, making sparkly little lamps and windchimes. Sorry, but I do this occasionally, going off the writing grid to pursue my artistic fancies. Guess I'm not real ambitious that way, but hey, life is about experiences, not schedules. Besides, whenever I take time off to do other stuff, I come back to my writing more invigorated and energized.

Doesn't relate to anything in this post. I just thought it was pretty and eye-catching (pun intended)

Doesn't mean the stories aren't percolating on the back burner. That never stops. But right now I have some serious life stuff to get through that demands my undivided attention. Artsy stuff allows me to think while providing the creative outlet that is my oxygen. Kind of a zen thing. Some people meditate, some medicate, I do art.

I promise to stop by and water the plants and feed the mind now and then until I flip the switch back to full time writer.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Life in Review - Ten Family Food Memories

I've been thinking all week about doing one of those year in review posts that are so popular, but whether it's a sign of age or just plain boredom, I couldn't recall anything about my life this past year worth reviewing. I mean, sure stuff happened, but none of it was noteworthy.

 During a year bookended by stretches of unemployment, I can sum up the highlights in a single sentence: I quietly published two books (quietly because no one really noticed), finished a single semester of college in my aborted attempt to return to a scholastic life, completed a few web design jobs, redesigned my own websites, sold my beloved bucket list M3, started another new blog and business ( NidoBeato Creations ), and struggled through my first full year without both of my parents. I guess you could say I'm slowing down because I can't remember anything exciting and I don't miss it.

Maybe it's what's sitting on the horizon that has me so pensive. See, this is now a 4 year, which for me is a 0 year, meaning decades. I enter winter this year - 60 - and while at times I've struggled with the reality that the face in the mirror is no longer young, I think I've finally come to terms with the winter stage of life. In fact, I'd say I'm ready to embrace it. The truth is, youth exhausts me now. I no longer identify with it, and having moved past it, see it for the learning experience that it is. Would I go back if given the chance?  Hell no.

But I digress. I was sitting here yesterday, projects lined up on my work table but not really in the mood to tackle them, and instead started couch surfing and ended up on the Cooking Channel watching a marathon of My Grandmother's Ravioli, and it reminded me that some of my best memories revolve around food and family. Our family was small (just myself, my parents, my brother, and my grandmother who lived with us part time), but we were extremely close. Maybe it was all those years in the military, moving from place to place with no one but ourselves to depend on, and maybe it was that Old World, Depression-era mentality of my parents who believed in family above all else, but my youth was a happy, innocent time that revolved around family and friends.

Family dinners
Like scent, food triggers memories. Sunday mornings meant my dad's pancakes, Thanksgiving and Christmas meant waking up to the smell of roasting turkey, Christmas meant my dad would make all those traditional Italian pastries like cannoli and struffoli. Wednesday was spaghetti night, New Year's Day meant S.O.S. for brunch. July 4th meant a picnic with cold homemade fried chicken and deviled eggs. The first cold snap brought on my mother's homemade vegetable soup. And always there was a pot of navy beans or greens simmering on the stove. The mixture of Italian and Old South in my heritage made for an interesting dichotomy of flavors.

We didn't have much money. We weren't poor, but we weren't living it up either. We were just your average family--at least, so we thought. And the foods that were common and special were a whole lot different than they are now.

And so I present my list of Ten Family Food Memories.

1. Soda of any kind was a rarity. As a kid, we lived on Kool-aid, milk, and water. Orange juice (from concentrate) was a weekend breakfast treat. When we were sick, my mom would give us 7-Up with ice that she wrapped in a towel and crushed with a hammer.

2. Going out to eat was also a rarity, even for fast food. There were no MacDonald's when I was a little kid, and later, when there were, getting a restaurant-bought hamburger and fries happened only a few times a year.

3. Miracle Whip. It landed on every bologna or tuna fish sandwich. No mayo in my mom's house.

4. Speaking of tuna fish (a can of tuna--in oil, which for me is still the best way to buy it, two hardboiled eggs, Miracle Whip, and a chopped pickle) on toast was a welcome lunchtime break from bologna or PB&J sandwiches.

5. American Cheese. We didn't have the money for fancy special cheeses. My parents would buy those huge blocks of American cheese at the base commissary, which would then find itself in cheese and crackers (saltines, or if we were really getting fancy, Ritz), cheese eggs, the best grilled cheese sandwiches anywhere, and the ultimate comfort food, my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese.

6. Black Olives. I don't know what it is about black olives, but they carry a special meaning to me. My dad would buy those small jars of green olives to have with his lunchtime sandwich on the weekends, but black olives were only brought out for holidays, special occasions, and parties, which means that, for me, they're still something a little special.

7. Biscuits. The first thing I (or any other self-respecting Southerner) ever learned to cook. Every Saturday morning when my grandmother lived with us, I would drag my stool over to the counter and help her make biscuits. She always gave me the last bit of dough too small for a whole biscuit and I would ball it up and set it on my biscuit like a snowman. Throw some sausage gravy on there and you have a meal. Or, just drizzle them in syrup or honey.

8. S.O.S. Love it or hate it, it was a throwback to the Wars (WWI and WWII) when chow hall cooks had to feed armies with short supplies. The Army used dehydrated chipped beef in theirs, which gave it its name (Shit On a Shingle), but my dad made it with hamburger. It's still the quickest, stick-to-your-ribs meal I know how to make, which meant my kids also grew up with it and still love it as much as I do. Recipe: brown a pound of hamburger (the fattier, the better) in a heavy skillet, toss in a tablespoon or two of flour and mix to make a roux, add a mixture of milk and water, salt and pepper to make a smooth gravy, and serve on toast. Ten minutes tops. Great for New Year's Eve brunch.

9. Honky Soup. I laugh whenever Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory asks for it. Little hot dogs cut up in spaghetti. Like greens, biscuits, and mac 'n cheese, it's a Southern tradition, and another really quick meal for busy moms. Just cook up some elbow macaroni, open a can of tomato sauce, cut up a package of hot dogs (the cheaper, the better), toss it all in a pot and simmer for ten minutes. Trust me, kids love it. We sure did.

10. Toast in the broiler. Yep, just plain old white bread buttered on one side and browned in the broiler. Sounds simple, but in those days of hard stick butter and margarine that never melted on your bread, having the butter melted into your bread was heaven.

There are dozens of others, but these stand out. I'm sure your family had your own food traditions as well. I'd love to hear about them.

Friday, December 6, 2013

More Fun with Government Websites

We've all heard about the incompetence of the new national Healthcare website. What you may not know is, the same idiots must have redesigned EVERY government website because NONE of them work now. And good luck trying to reach anyone by phone to complain about it. If you manage to get a call connected, you're either A) told all lines are busy and to try back later, after which you're hung up on, B) current wait times are (insert number of hours) and leave a call back number (after which they call you back and put you on hold--fun), or C) you're forced to listen to a list of voicemail options that have nothing to do with why you called and when you select none, the robo-voice tells you to have a nice day and hangs up on you.

Now, a suspicious person (who--me?) might believe this is the government's way of keeping the citizens at arm's length. If they can't reach you, they can't bitch, right? And let's face it, who would call THIS government to say anything nice?

I haven't had the pleasure of personally dealing with the healthcare site yet, but I did spend a month TRYING to apply for unemployment on Florida's new CONNECT site, and let me tell you, the term "going postal" didn't come close to describing my frustration. The best part was, after four weeks of fighting to get logged in, they informed me that I couldn't receive benefits until after my waiting week (which would have been three weeks earlier if the fucking site had worked!).


The funny thing is, I'm a web designer, and while I like to pretend to my clients that what I do for them is really hard, it isn't. Brain surgery is hard. Finding parking at the mall this time of year is hard. Web design (once you know the code) is a walk in the park, which should be an indicator of just how stupid this government is.

Still licking my wounds from the CONNECT debacle, I come up against the latest government FUBAR, the Social Security Administration, who by the way, just updated their site. Three guesses who handled that update. This must have been one of those Lockheed-$500-toilet-government-contract fuckups.

This all started when I got this email two weeks ago:

We’d like to remind you to review your Social Security Statement online. The Statement has important Social Security information and, if applicable, estimates of your future benefits.
If you are working, we encourage you to check your Statement yearly to make sure your earnings record is correct. The Statement also will help in planning your financial future.
To view your most recent Statement, please visit and sign into your account.
Please do not reply to this E-mail, as we are unable to respond to messages sent to this address.

So, like any curious citizen, I clicked on the link and entered the login information I had used to create my account last year when the SSA decided mailing statements to people was too much work and insisted that we all use their (cough cough) wonderful website to view them instead (I'm not even going to think about how much stress this is causing elderly people who can't even figure out how to turn on a computer).

SIDE NOTE: I now know how they're going to solve the social security going broke problem. If no one can log in, no one can apply for benefits.

Anyway, here is the result of that login attempt:

 Now, first of all, this is a WEBSITE. There's no one sitting on the other end answering url requests, so insisting that people attempt to access the site ONLY during regular service hours is RETARDED.

Second, the first time I attempted this was at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, which, unless I'm sitting in China, is within their definition of REGULAR SERVICE HOURS.

Third, I tried this over and over at various times of day over the next two weeks and got the same message every time. So finally, I decided I'd call to see what the hell the problem was (big mistake, but hey, I'm a sucker).

I think I deserve some credit for not smashing my phone because the robo-voice that answered was the most annoying male I have even heard. And the options he gave weren't even close to why I was calling (I guess they don't want to include the option "If our website is fucked up and you can't log in, press 9.")

So I waited until the annoying voice finished it's litany of stupidity, then was informed that if I wanted to wait on the line, my wait time would be four hours.


If your customer service line is backed up for FOUR MOTHERFUCKING HOURS, that should send up a red flag saying, hey, we might have a problem here.

*Smacks head* What am I thinking--it's the GOVERNMENT.

Rather than sit on hold till my phone battery died (and you know, because I have a life to live) I left a callback number. By the time they called I had forgotten all about it, so that was a surprise. Then when I answered I got put on hold for ten minutes, then sent back to the voicemail labyrinth so I'd be good a ready to treat the public servant who finally answered with the proper amount of respect.

And can I just ask this--why would you call me back to put me on hold when the reason you made me give you a callback number in the first place was so I wouldn't have to sit on hold? Every government site does this now.

SIDE NOTE: I used to be an advocate of gun control.

When I finally got connected to a (cough cough) human being, she informed me that they had updated their website and all the old accounts were deleted so I had to create a new one. As a credit to my humanity, I didn't even to waste my breath commenting on that one, though I was thinking some pithy stuff real hard.

So I go back to the website to create a new account, and I put in all my information, and it informs me that there is already an account in that name and to log in using those credentials. Not trusting that, I created a new password (it wouldn't let me create a new username, bastards) then attempted to login .

Guess what happened

At this point, I don't even care anymore. Besides, by the time I qualify for Social Security, the money will be paying for some politician's mistress's boob job. I hope she enjoys it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's the thought that counts...or at least it was

I remember the exact moment when I realized I wasn't going to participate in the rampant greed that defines the holiday season as we know it today.

I grew up a child of the 50s and 60s, when the holidays were more about gathering with friends and family to reflect upon the year past and look forward with hope to the one ahead. There was magic in the air, and while the anticipation of Santa's return was part of it, it was more than that. You could literally feel the presence of God, which for me, means love.

I'm not a religious person. I don't subscribe to any one faith, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in something. The power of love, of the soul. I believe in morality, in humanity as it pertains to its root--humane. The holiday season was once a celebration of that. Harkening back to its pagan origins, the Solstice was a time of renewal, of the rebirth of the sun as the seasons changed and the days began to lengthen again, leaving the darkness behind.

It was in the early 90s when I finally looked around me and realized I was done with it all. My kids were still young, though past the belief in Santa. I had lost my job that year and we were struggling. I was working odd jobs, whatever I could pick up--cleaning houses, delivering phone books, painting houses. It wasn't much, but it put food on the table and kept a roof over our heads. Some nights I skipped dinner so the kids could eat. They knew things were tough, but they didn't know the real story. They didn't need to. They were kids, and as my father always taught us, kids should remain innocent as long as possible, because they have their whole lives to be adults.

As I said, we didn't have much, and I knew Christmas wasn't going to be the bountiful feast of years past, but while eating dinner one night, the kids brought up an idea. Instead of buying them toys, why didn't we donate whatever we could to a needy family. Considering we were pretty needy ourselves at the time, I felt a lump in my throat that I had raised these kids to think that way.

So that's what we did. I scraped together $150.00 and we signed up to adopt a family. They had two small children--a girl and a boy--and we went shopping and bought a couple of inexpensive toys for each, then a turkey and and all the fixings for a family dinner. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the kids and I drove over to our adopted family's house to deliver our gifts.

At the time we were living in an 80-year-old bungalow with leaky windows, bad plumbing, and no air conditioning or heat. The house I pulled up to was a mansion compared to that. It was in a nice neighborhood, nearly new construction, and a fairly new car sat in the driveway. The woman who answered the door was dressed better than me on my best day. I looked around the room and nearly threw up. These people had more than we had ever had, and yet they had signed up to be an adopted family?

The boys and I presented the woman with our packages. To their credit, they said nothing about our surroundings. The woman immediately unwrapped the toys and looked up at me with a frown.

"This is all you bought them?"

That's when my youngest spoke up. "It was all we could afford. My mom doesn't have a job."

The woman just rolled her eyes and dismissed us. No thank you, no appreciation whatsoever for the generosity of strangers.

When we got back to the car, I sat there for a minute fighting back the tears. I had sacrificed what little I had for my own family to give to someone who not only didn't need it, but didn't even have the courtesy to appreciate the effort. That's when my son patted me on the arm and smiled at me.

"Don't worry, Mom. It's the thought that counts."

Yes, it was, for us at least. But that was the last Christmas I celebrated. I had been watching the erosion of the holiday spirit for years, but that's when it really hit home and I made the decision that I would no longer participate in the charade of "giving" that now characterizes this time of year.

Instead of peace and love, all we have is stress and  greed. Shop, shop, shop. Go in debt to buy the perfect gift for everyone, but make sure they can return it when it isn't perfect and no one appreciates it anyway. Nope. No more. My boys and I decided we would have our own holidays. Birthdays became the holidays in our house. If I couldn't afford gifts, I made sure that day was special in some other way. The boys understood because, just like me, they had seen behind the curtain that day.

I wish you all peace and love for the coming year and hope that sometime during this hectic season, you can find time to stop and reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas--not as it pertains to religion, but to the spirit of all humanity.


Friday, November 29, 2013

New look for Nytwriter

Hey, lookee here! New year right around the corner, and though it's been less than that since I overhauled the site and blog, I felt it was time for a change. All I really did is change the styles to a lighter look. Maybe it's my eyes getting older, but I find it easier to read dark text on light background, don't you? And who needs all the fancy stuff. Blogs are about the words.

While I'm here, I'll drop some info. I know I haven't been posting of late; been busy with life stuff and all that. I wrapped up NaNoWriMo, and even though my novel is in ten shades of holy-hell-what-a-messness, I hit the magic 50K and said, we're good for now. I have every intention of fixing that and publishing it, hopefully before the end of the year, but in the meantime this girl has to make some money to pay the bills. Since this isn't the most lucrative time of year for us freelancers, it's back to the craftiness for me, which means hunting for cast-offs and treasures and altering, painting, or otherwise re-purposing them to sell.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Not enough hours in the day

Okay, fellow Darklings, I'll keep this short and sweet because I'm trying to eat lunch, write this blog, and keep the cats out of the paint while my room is drying enough for the second coat.

I was plugging along on my NaNoWriMo novel and wouldn't you know, Mercury decided to shift into Drive and leave me hanging in the lurch. Since I do my best writing when the solar messenger is in retrograde, that left me staring at my screen and doing a lot of "Uhhhh....hmmmm....well...I got nothing.

On the bright side, when one part of my creativity gets plugged, another awakens. That means all these little Round-To-It (as in, "I'll get around to it") projects piling up around the house are finally getting done. I've cleaned up my succulent ghetto on the front porch, finished antiquing a pine cabinet I found at a garage sale months ago, painted and decoupaged an old metal cabinet I found at a garage sale months ago, cleaned out my closets, rearranged the furniture, mosaiced the top of an old iron plant stand, and am in the process of painting my bedroom. Whew.

Oh, and I also had two marathon writing sessions on my NaNoWriMo novel when I woke up in the middle of the night with several scenes running lines through my head, so all is not lost there. Sitting at over 42,000 words now, I'll have no problem polishing that baby off before the end of the month.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Random Trip to Nowhere - Day 8 NaNoWriMo

It's alive! Part 8 of Random Trips to Nowhere featuring alien body snatching, drunk singing dogs, and sinister metallic probes. Egads! Check it out Random Trips to Nowhere Part 8

Today's NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2204
Cumulative Word Count: 20,648

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 7

Okay, come on, people! I've been waiting for input on the absurd scifi journey that is Random Trips to Nowhere. Willing suspension of disbelief is running rampant across the page. Scientific accuracy has been totally annihilated, Einstein is turning over in his grave.

Today's episode is now live on my writing blog.

Today's Word Count: 3199 ( I know, didn't I have one more word in me for an even 3200?)
Cumulative Word Count: 18,444

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 6

Part 6 of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.
Today's Word Count: 2663
Cumulative Word Count: 15,245

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 5

The Day 5 edition of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.

Today's Word Count: 2171
Total Word Count: 12,528

Write To Please Yourself

When I was in college I took a class called Commercial Creative Writing. It was my last semester and I needed one more class in my major and had taken every literature and humanities course that interested me, so I figured, what the hell. In hindsight it was a bad idea on two counts: 1. It ruined my perfect GPA, and 2. It nearly soured me on writing altogether.

The professor was, to put it bluntly, a pompous ass. According to him (and his syllabus), unless your writing appealed to the masses, it was crap. And he proved that by giving me Cs on all my papers.

Now I'm not going to stand here and say I'm a great writer because I know I'm not. However, that isn't because I'm bad at the actual craft of writing. I pride myself on knowing how to write, and have made my living for the past three decades working as a professional technical editor and writer.

I had been writing short stories since I was eight years old, and while none of them were masterpieces, they weren't awful and, most importantly, they pleased me. For my first assignment in this class, we had to write a story about some kind of symbolism (I don't remember the exact guidelines since it was 20 years ago), and I wrote a strange little tale about the Round Toit. You know--"I'll get around to it." It was a kind of mish-mash of Dante's Inferno meets Alice in Wonderland, and when I was done, I thought it was original and quite clever. The professor, however, didn't share my point of view.

"You will never make any money as a writer until you learn to write stories that appeal to the masses."

That's what he wrote on my paper. As I said, according to him, the only story worth telling was one you could sell to the Everyman. I can't tell you how glad I am that writers don't adhere to that ideal. Otherwise, we would be reading the same dull book over and over.

Personally, I write to the beat of my own drum. I'll be the first to admit my stories don't appeal to everyone, and in fact, probably not too many people at all, judging by how many have actually read them. But I'm okay with that because I told the story I wanted to tell in each one of them. It wasn't an editor's story, it wasn't a publisher's story, it wasn't even a writing partner's story. It was mine, birthed and created from my own mind and told exactly how I wanted it to be told. And that is more important to me than all the sales and accolades in the world.

So my advice to any aspiring writer is this: decide what kind of writer you want to be. Do you want to write to be a commercial success, or do you want to craft stories that, while they may never be best sellers, at least please your own sense of accomplishment? Either way, write to please yourself. Tell your story on your terms and if it turns out no one else wants to read it, well, at least you didn't compromise your art for the sake of commercialism.

I like artists who pave their own paths. Who are brave enough to risk ridicule or failure to bring their vision to life. Be true to yourself, and don't stop telling your stories just because someone tells you they don't have mass appeal. There's always someone out there who will love them as you do, and hearing the praise from that one person whose soul you touched can wipe out a hundred bad reviews.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 4 -Random Trips to Nowhere

The Day 4 episode of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.

Today's word count: 3646
Cumulative word count: 10,411

Sunday, November 3, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day Three - Random Trips to Nowhere

Day Three of Random Trips to Nowhere is up on my writing blog.

Day Three word count: 2210
Cumulative word count: 6765

Saturday, November 2, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day Two - Random Trips to Nowhere

Day Two of Random Trips to Nowhere is now up on my writing blog.

Day Two word count: 2502
Cumulative word count: 4557

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day One - Random Trips to Nowhere

Okay, boys and girls, my Day One NaNoWriMo sprint is now live on my writing blog here: Random Trips to Nowhere - Day One.

Day One wordcount: 2055

Thursday, October 31, 2013

So You Want To Be a Writer - Part 3 - From First Draft to Publication

In Part 2 of So You Want To Be a Writer, we learned the fundamentals of creating a good first draft novel. We leaned how to correctly use punctuation, the rules of grammar, tense, voice, and point of view, as well as how to create compelling characters.

If you’ve been working on your novel as discussed in Part 2, by this point it should be sitting at roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words. Nice job. Pat yourself on the back and bask in the moment, but don’t go so far as celebrating, because as the man said, “We ain’t done yet.”

See, what you are holding in your hand (or on your computer) is something probably no one but you will ever see (and trust me, when you’re finally done, you’ll be grateful for that).  Given the choice, no writer would ever want someone else to read their first draft. Hell, mine have almost as many instructions and notes to myself in them as narrative. Fill this out more, find out what this means, add a little more padding to this get the point. The purpose of a first draft is to get the whole story down, from start to finish. Think of it as a skeleton, and the rewrites you’re going to do as adding lean, mean meat to the bones. A book may take months to finish, and getting to the first draft is a very small part of that effort. The hard work comes after, and it’s the stuff that separates the wannabes from the real writers.

So without further ado, here we go, 10 steps to go from first draft to publishable novel.

1. Stop Writing. Depending on how much of a control freak you are, this may or not be the easiest thing you’ve done yet. “What do you mean, stop writing?” you ask. Simple. Close the file (or put away that giant stack of dead trees you call a manuscript) and forget about it for a week or two. Take a vacation. Clean out the garage. Better yet, start another book. The point is, you’ve been living with this book for several weeks or months (or for some of you, years) and during that time it has consumed every last drop of your creative juices. You need time to recharge the batteries and distance to gain perspective. You know that old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees?” Well, this is where it came from. (Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true, but it applies.)

2. Rewriting, Round 1. If the Round 1 part of this title scares you, you’re going to either need to get tougher or pack up and go home. Most books require at least three, sometimes more rewrites. The most important job of this round is to fill in the blanks (all those little notes you made to yourself while writing), round out your research, eliminate the typos and grammar gremlins, and tighten the writing. Some scenes may require more detail, some may require less, and some may need to be eliminated altogether. Remember, if it isn’t contributing to the resolution of the story, it isn’t necessary. It’s okay to throw in the occasional red herring, but do that too much and what you see as a storytelling device becomes a reader’s motive for murder. (Quick word of advice here: Don’t piss off your reader. It hurts future sales.)

WARNING: This round of rewrites can also become a trap, especially for new writers. You can get so mired in rewriting and researching that you burn out on the entire novel and never touch it again. So make this pass quick. Allot yourself a predetermined amount of time for completion (say a week, or if you’re busy or work slowly, two) and stick to that schedule. Dragging it out for weeks or even months isn’t going to make the book any better.

3. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. Every writer has their own system for doing things, and as you become more experienced, you’ll develop yours as well. Today, however, is not that day. If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re not there yet. So, take my advice for what it’s worth, and step away from the book again. Believe it or not, even if you’re not actively working on it, your little literary masterpiece-to-be is still happily percolating away on the back burner of your brain. There might be a scene you’re not happy with, or a plot hole you can’t figure out how to fill. The fact is, at this point, you’ve probably got as many questions as you have answers and while banging your head against a keyboard might provide a warped brand of satisfaction, it probably won’t do much more than give you a headache that you can then blame on your writing, thus providing you with the excuse you need to throw in the towel.

Think of it this way: You know those times when you’re having a conversation with a friend and something they say reminds you of a movie you saw a long time ago (or maybe last week), but you can’t for the life of you remember the name of the movie? Even worse, you can’t even remember who was in it to ask for clues. It’s like staring into a black hole. You know you know it, but that portion of your internal hard drive has just taken a vacation to the Bahamas and is unavailable for access. Figuring you’re suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, you shake your head, mumble something about needing to go, and listlessly go back about your business. Then sometime in the middle of the night, lo and behold, the hard drive comes back online and wakes you up with–you guessed it–the name of the movie you forgot. You sit up in bed and yell, “Eureka!” and curse the Gods of Internal Hard Drives for their untimely interruption of your sleep, or something like that.

So what does this mean to you, the writer? Allow your novel time to breathe, to smooth out the rough edges. Fiddling with it during this time, changing this word or that, really isn’t going to speed the process. You never know–by waiting you might get struck with an epiphany that turns your ho-hum first novel into a best seller.

4. Rewriting, Round 2. This time when you come back to your book, do yourself a favor. If you can, print it out. Reading it on paper forces you to read without editing. Plus, once that read-through is finished, it will be easier to take notes on paper. If you can’t print it out, convert it to PDF so you’re forced to read it through from beginning to end without stopping to edit.

The reason for a complete read-through is important for you to get a real sense of the overall book, something that isn’t possible when you work on it one part at a time. It is only by looking at it as a whole that you get a real sense of the plot, pacing, and what I call readability of the novel. You can take notes during this read-through, but don’t let it sidetrack you. You need this perspective. I often trick myself by pretending I’m a stranger reading the book. You can use whatever works for you.

Once you’re finished, you can go back and begin to polish your little jewel with a greater understanding of what it needs or could stand to lose. Be merciless–the changes you make now will make your novel stronger for what’s coming next.

5. Beta Read. By now you’re feeling pretty confident about your book. You’ve ironed out all the obvious plot holes, tightened up the narrative, and cleaned up the typos and grammar problems. Which means it is now time for a second opinion. If you’ve never had anyone else read your work (friends and family don’t count because they’ll say they love anything you write to spare your feelings, and that won’t do you or your future readers any good), this can be a scary proposition. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to get over your fear or your're never going to be able to release your baby into the wild.

The choice of a beta reader is important. Good beta readers are worth their weight in gold to a writer, and having several is vital because you’re going to want at least two different beta reads; one now and one just before release. Having several readers for each ensures you get a good cross-section of feedback, but don’t use all of them the first time around. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression, so the reader(s) who look at your book this time should not be the same one(s) who look at it the final time. You can’t give an accurate assessment of something when you already know what’s going to happen.

The most important qualification for a beta reader is honesty. No matter how brutal it may seem, make sure your readers are willing to give you an impartial, no-holds-barred assessment of the book. And that’s where the next step comes into play.

6. Critique Etiquette. If you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to learn to take criticism constructively. Remember, your beta readers are critiquing this particular book, not you personally or your overall ability to write. You can either sulk and get angry, or you can use their comments constructively to make your book better so when you do release it, you’ll know it’s the best book you could have written. If you're looking for an ego-stroke, find another way to express yourself.

7. Apply What You’ve Learned. Once you get all the comments from your beta readers, go through them objectively. You have to be able to take a step back at this point and look at the book like any other work you do. If you were building a house and the doors were crooked, you’d want someone to point that out to you before you had prospective buyers come by to look at it, right? Same thing here. Take all their comments and compare them to each other and to your book. Some comments may be valid, and some you may reject. But don’t reject the reason the comment was made, especially if more than one person makes it. Perhaps your readers don’t understand a particular point you’re trying to make in the book and suggest a way to clarify it. You may not agree with their solution, but don’t discount the comment itself. Just because you know what you’re trying to say, doesn’t mean your readers will. If clarification is required, it’s better to address it now.

8. Editing. Remember that forest and trees comparison we made in Number 1? It’s more important than ever now. When you live with a book for so long, you begin to see it, not for what it is, but what you think it is. Mistakes that would be obvious in someone else’s work are completely invisible in your own. It’s not that you’re bad at editing, it’s just that your brain sees what you want it to see.

You may or may not be good at editing. If you’re not, finding a good editor is even more important than a good beta reader. And there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all editor. Different writers need different kinds of editors. You may be good at the grammar and punctuation stuff, but blind to content and pacing. Or maybe you’re just the opposite. The point is, take your time to find an editor that fits your needs and develop a relationship with them. That way they learn your strengths and weaknesses and can edit accordingly.

If you are good at editing, it’s still wise to get a second pair of eyes on your book, if for no other reason than to make sure you don’t miss something. If you can’t afford to pay an editor, try to work out some sort of reciprocal agreement. Maybe you know a writer who’s good at content editing and you’re good at line editing. You could swap services, thus helping each other out and building a report with a fellow writer.

9. Polish and Proof. We’re getting so close you can almost taste it now, but let's not rush things. The time you spend on details now will reward you with a better product later. After you incorporate your editor’s inputs, you need to once again put the book aside and let it rest. This time I would suggest giving it a couple of weeks. I know you’re anxious to set it free, but just be patient a little while longer. You might want to start lining up publication options, maybe finalizing your cover or other details. You could also start talking up your book on social media, getting some pre-release buzz going.

Once you’ve gotten some distance from the book, do another read through like you did in Number 4. If you’ve done your job, there should be little if anything to change or correct. Make those changes, give it another polish, and prepare to send it out for its final review.

10. Final Beta Read. This is it. The final test. What you give your beta readers to read this time should be 99% ready for publication. I say 99% because finding a flaw or two is not the end of the world. If they find nothing, congratulate yourself on a job well done. And if you run into the opposite scenario and your beta reader still uncovers problems, don’t get discouraged. Remember, it’s better to learn about any problems now rather than after you publish and get a spate of bad reviews. Just remember to be patient and thank them for their time and honesty. Every problem you catch now is one a paying customer won’t catch later.

And that’s it. Remember back in part 1 when I said writing was hard work? Well, now you know exactly what I was talking about. But you got through it, and now you can finally pop the cork on that champagne and have a little celebration.

Red Awakening Release Day

Happy Halloween, fellow darklings. Today I celebrate with the release of the second book in The Erebus Files, RED AWAKENING. You can hop over to my writing-only blog, Random Shit Nobody Cares About to read an excerpt.

Purchase links are as follows:

Amazon Kindle

Barnes & Noble Nook

Smashwords (including Apple, Diesel, and other fine ebook outlets)

Amazon Paperback

Help out an indie writer and make this a big launch by picking up a copy for $1.99 (digital only) today.

And to celebrate further, I am giving away three FREE (EPUB or MOBI format only) copies to the first three people who request it here. Just comment with your name and format desired.

Happy reading!