A Needed Break

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I didn’t post last week because I took a staycation and took care of some health issues. Other than a brief trip to visit my mother for 2 nights, I hardly budged outside of my house. I did some serious R&R, as we called it in the military. I played low-stress games like Freecell and Solitaire until I was winning almost every game. I loaded music on my computer and synced them up with my iDevices. I only wrote about a thousand words. I browsed lots of news sites (you may not realize it, but I am quite a news junkie).

I also got my blood pressure managed. Additional dietary choices are now open to me, so I will once again eliminate dairy from my diet. I went the entire month of January without milk, and my intestinal issues and rib pain went away. Unfortunately, my blood pressure also went up because my breakfast without milk has a lot more sodium than plain cereal with milk. Now that I can eliminate dairy again, I am hoping this rib pain will go away again. It kept me up last night for about an hour.

So it was a good week. I don’t want it to end, quite frankly, but that’s why they call it vacation. My husband wants me to schedule another week already. July is looking good.

I decided not to move my website. I am currently using a premium WordPress account, and after reflecting that I have spent zero time worrying about my website over the last year, I decided to stay put. The managed WordPress accounts are too expensive and don’t get me anything that I don’t have here, plus I have been accumulating a few handfuls of WordPress followers (hey guys!) I don’t want to cut them off by moving.

I may, however, redo my theme, and maybe procure a premium theme … if I can find one that is worth the cash.

Financial Tip!

This is my first financial tip ever. But we got our first American Express card and it is really helping our finances. We put all our charges on the AmEx card and pay it off at the end of the month. Nothing else is going on our regular credit card, allowing us to pay it off faster. Plus we are getting lots of AmEx points.

An important note about AmEx cards–they are designed to pay off at the end of the month. So be careful to only use it for planned expenses, like grocery, gas, and small credit card purchases. You do NOT want to be in a position where you are unable to pay off the card at the end of the month. AmEx is designed to be a charge card, not a credit card, and there is a distinct difference.

It is going to totally be worth the 200 dollars to renew at the end of the year.

Writing Update

Chicory, Anne Elizabeth and I were having quite a discussion on epic fantasy and warrior woman tropes in the Back From Hiatus post. They got me to reveal some of the ideas I have been playing with (ahem–paladin story–cough), and we have just been having a good ole time. While my first priority has got to be finishing East of Yesterday, I am finding it difficult to resist working on my paladin story!

Anne Elizabeth recommended I try reading David Weber’s War God series, and I probably will, but it seems to be kind of a spoof of a paladin story. Has anyone ever read any good paladin stories, other than the quintessential Deed of Paksenarrion?

Doings, Writings and Readings

Christmas seemed to speed by in a great, big rush this year. I didn’t have any vacation time left by the time Christmas rolled around, which — sigh — seems to be typical for me despite the fact that I have accumulated three weeks of vacation a year. And now that I have a full slate of vacation days once again, my husband has been summoned for jury duty, which means that I have to take at least one day off for that.

Sigh.

And I have been contemplating my plans for 2014. This year, I hope to finish East of Yesterday, lose 10 more pounds, and give up sweets for Lent so I can try to get off this sugar kick I have been stuck on. My goals for work include moving into more of a leadership position (not necessarily resource management) and get published in the field of Business Analysis (articles only–I have no BA books in mind).

My accomplishments for the last year were more modest, but I did publish another book (although I have not mentioned it much), kept off the 13 pounds that I lost the year before, and reduced my stress.

What I’m Reading


I just finished reading The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler, and it was pretty excellent. It is about a girl named Lia who lives at an Abbey called Muirwood, which is a place where learners learn how to read and how to work a force called the Medium, a quasi-religious form of magic. However, Lia is a wretched, or one who has been abandoned, and as such, she is forbidden to learn even though she has great natural ability. Naturally, she wants to learn more than anything else in the world.

Her quiet life at the Abbey is interrupted when a knight drops off an injured squire and tells her that he will return for him in 3 days–all Lia has to do in the meantime is keep the squire hidden from the powerful Sheriff who is after him.

The book did leave a few unanswered questions, especially regarding the knight, but there are two books to go in the series, so hopefully they will provide some answers. I found the first book gripping and engaging, and I’ll get the next book in the next month or so. All the books in the series are available. The cover image links to the book at Amazon.

What I’m Writing

I am up to 81,000 words with East of Yesterday, which definitely means I am rounding home plate. To celebrate 80,000 words, I sat down and wrote my query. I often find it helpful to write a query at some point before I finish writing the novel. It helps me identify any weaknesses in my premise. The same goes for the synopsis, which I did in graphical form a couple of months ago, but which I have yet to do in prose.

The query isn’t quite ready to share, but it did help me fill in a plot hole that I had left open to write at some point. The problem is, it rendered a pivotal scene in Part One as somewhat nonsensical. And so now I have a plot quandary–do I keep that formerly-pivotal scene, or do I trash it? Fortunately I have my graphical outline to consult to see how much I really need it, and I also can use my procedure on removing and replacing a scene (for which I am creating an infographic) if I decide it has to go.

~*~

What about you? Got any resolutions or accomplishments you’d like to share? Read anything good lately?

My Writing Process — in Six Steps!

I have written six novel-length works and am working on the seventh. Over the years I have developed a writing process that works for me. I may have written on this before at my defunct writing blog, but most of that is out the window, because I let myself change some things for East of Yesterday, and it breaks some of the “never do this” writing rules you always hear about.

Warm-Up – Check Out Social Networks

I count this as part of my writing process because it is kind of a warm-up and because promoting your existing work should be part of your writing “work”. Sales of The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf have not been stellar, but I do work to keep my name out there, even if I don’t exactly trumpet “buy my book!” from the rooftops. (Seriously, if you enjoyed The Sevenfold Spell or The Magic Mirror, I could use some word-of-mouth, be it a review on online sites, or just telling your family and friends.)

So the first thing I do is start up my email, Twitter, Facebook and lately, Google Plus, and participate in some conversations. I also open Goodreads to see if anyone added either book to their shelves. I generally do not check out my page rank at Amazon.

After 15 or 20 minutes, I shut down all browsers. All my email comes via my browsers, so that is de facto shut down as well.

Fire Up Applications

This varies by book. For East of Yesterday, I open the following:

  • Manuscript in Microsoft Word
  • Plot diagram in Visio
  • Gazetteer in TiddlyWiki
  • Discard file in Microsoft Word

And as needed, I open my calendar of 1922 in Microsoft Excel (calendar courtesy of dateandtime.org).

Edit Last Scene Written

Yes, I edit as I write. I know that the writing advice is to just write it, but honestly, I did that with The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf and when it came time to developmental edits, it was a nightmare. My editor told me that it was not a nightmare, and that my manuscript was actually in pretty good shape, but for my schedule, it was difficult. So now I polish as I go along. I also question every scene that makes me uncomfortable, or that I have difficulty with, because it was those scenes that I ended up editing the most heavily during the dev edits.

The result is a first draft that is in a better state of polish than any other book I have written. My discards file is less than 10,000 words. Much of that consists of scenes that I have since added back into the story (and changed, leaving the original in the discards file). In fact, the novel is in such a good state that when a friend asked to read some additional chapters beyond the opening, I felt confident enough to send her the entire 100+ page section that makes up Part One.

Write the Next Scenes

The way I write is also unorthodox. I’ll write a scene are part of a scene up to a certain milestone. Then, I’ll go back and reread what I just wrote, and edit it. I constantly edit as I write, like a sculptor, continually smoothing and polishing.

When I write first drafts, I concentrate on moving the plot forward. I leave off all non-essential descriptions and transitions. These are the things that I fill in during later drafts and editing sessions.

If I write something that affects a previous scene, I go back and fix it immediately, or at least leave a note. I don’t leave as many notes as I used to, because too often I have come upon the note later and wondered what the heck I had in mind. So now I fix immediately, unless the change is sweeping.

Just-In-Time Research

As I write, I occasionally come across some tidbit that I need to research. Yesterday, I needed an early car. So I did some quick research and decided that a Model T Ford would suit my needs. I learned enough about the Model T to write the scene, such as the type of engine it had, its top speed, whether there was a back seat (I needed one), and whether it could be a convertible (I needed one). I also learned that its nickname was the Tin Lizzie, which I worked in as well. I’ll probably research it again to add more details later.

Other times, I’ll do more in-depth research that will affect my story, such as photographic research, where I just page through outdoor and indoor photographs, looking for things that were common in early times, that might affect my story in ways I didn’t expect.

Finishing for the Day

I have no particular routine for when I finish up. Oftentimes I will be interrupted and will never get back to it, and I’ll save and shut down right before bed. This happens more often than not, which is why I need to reread my previous scene to determine where I was.

I am doing so much that’s different for this novel (plotting, letting out my inner editor), and its really working out well this time.

So sometimes, you just gotta break the rules.

My Writing Nook … Finally

I now have a writing nook. Check it out:

My Writing Nook

For a long time, the place I wrote was in the marginof the family room. It was considerably distraction-prone by the TV and by life going on in general. And all this time we had this beautiful bay window, which basically served as a mancave.

After reading an article in this month’s RWA magazine about having a writing space, I decided–before I even finished reading the article–that I had to ask my husband for the bay window. He, being the terrific guy he is, promptly cleared out for me. There is still the gun footlocker by the little wooden chair, but I am taking up the whole bay window, so this is enough, I think.

And so I have the recliner, a small table for my lamp and my powerstrip, a small, elegant 1 drawer table (with a drawer that is just large enough for an office tray), an ottoman for the guest chair (and for my computer when I am not using it), and the guest chair.

When I sat down tonight, I felt so refined and posh that I put in a Schubert quintet to listen to as I write. Something I never was able to do in the living room.

Ahh … and now, I think I shall write.

A Plotting Breakthrough!

I’ve always been more of a panster than a plotter. I just thought I was stuck with that mode in my brain. And it has caused me quite a bit of grief–I have thousands and thousands of words worth of broken plots, stories that went nowhere, and plot twists that have spun into convoluted knots.

I should have known that visual plotting would be my breakthrough.

I decided to try to sort out all the time-traveling in my story by laying the whole thing out in a Visio diagram. I am a business analyst, so flowcharts come quite naturally to me.

Check it out. Click to enbiggen.

PlotWebsThis is only a portion of a Visio that is now four pages wide. Four portrait-style pages, because I need the vertical length. Each swimline–the vertical boxes–represents a decade. The bubbles are laid out in chronological order, as they would occur in real time. The lines going every which-way represents four groups of time-travelers as they criss-cross the decades (and each other).

With this plotting style, I have come up with two of the three plotlines that I need to finish up for this book, and I am working on finishing up the third.

Now I just need to quit drawing lines and resume writing some words. 60,000 words down, 40,000 words to go!

A Manuscript’s Visual Appeal

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone write about this, but I thought I’d post about part of my manuscript clean-up process, where I go over the manuscript for visual appeal.

Huh?

I mentioned this a while back in a post on my Manuscript Clean-Up Process. Here’s the relevant entry:

Skim for pacing. Page through the story by scrolling it with your mouse wheel. If one scene requires notably more srolls than the others, take a closer look. Same goes for short scenes. You might even want to zoom way out on your MS so you can just take in the scene lengths without getting distracted by the words. (Set your zoom to 10% and you’ll see what I mean.)

For this post, I thought I’d go into a bit more detail. Because not only do I skim for pacing as I write, I am actually trying to make the document physically attractive. Why? Because attractive documents are easier to read.

I had to explain this to a co-worker this week in my job as a business analyst. The best documents are easy to read not only because of good grammar and style, but because of an attractive layout. This is extremely important in nonfiction, and is often overlooked–and even scorned.

But it is important in fiction as well. Let me show you what I mean. Here is an example of an attractive document, zoomed far out so you won’t be distracted by the words.

MSPages.shfThis is the look I go for. Nice and wavy, not blocky. Paragraphs that aren’t very long, so you fly through the pages. Punchy dialog. Slim paragraphs.

But what about passages of description and introspection? Here’s one such page:

MSPages2I could have written this out as one long paragraph, but I didn’t. I am trying to prevent my reader from becoming daunted by long paragraph after long paragraph. Check out some of the newer books on your bookshelf and you’ll probably find a mix of paragraph lengths, like the above. But look for something that was published a while ago–in the 80s or so. You’ll see they look very different.

I noticed this when I was trying to get my daughter into reading The Princess Bride. If you’ve only seen the movie, you should read the book because it is also a treat, with lots of stuff (lots and lots) that didn’t make it into the movie.

But damn.

The author tended to go off on wild tangents for line after line after line. Thank God my daughter already read Anne of Green Gables, and was therefore used to dialog where one character essentially rambles a speech at another. Because there is an awful lot of rambling in The Princess Bride. I honestly question whether in today’s world, it would have found a publisher, or if the author would have been forced to either revise, or self-publish.

In fact, I was doing what the grandfather did in the movie. I was showing her where to find the good parts. Basically, she needs to look for the wavy parts, and skip the blocks.

Go even further back in history, and you’ll find some of the classics had immensely long paragraphs. Dickens seemed to love long paragraphs, but not Jane Austen. I don’t remember the paragraph lengths in The Three Musketeers, so they must not have been excessive, but I recall one chapter in The Hunchback of Notre Dame that went on for pages and pages. It was the chapter that described the city of Paris, and I think it took 35 pages altogether, without very many paragraph breaks.

Ugh. That was a slog.

Some of that may have been printing decisions to save space. We don’t have that need nowadays, and anyway, we usually can’t get away with it.

Check out some of your favorite books and look at them from a distance. Are they wavy or blocky? If you’re a writer, how about your own manuscript? Or do you think we should even care?

On Contest Judging and Slaying Gerunds

I belong to the First Coast Romance Writers. Nominally. I am a terrible member. I go to meetings maybe twice a year, plus the annual Christmas party. I don’t run for any offices, and I never volunteer for anything. I was once participating in the online group, but I’ll have to reintroduce myself over there because it’s been so long since I’ve even read one post.

This is a top-notch group. We have a SLEW of published authors, and we regularly fly in speakers from all over the place. We have at least seven Golden Heart winners. Just take a look at the list of published authors. My non-participation is my own fault.

(I have similarly neglected HereBeMagic, RomVets, the Carina Press group and the RWA PRO group. I have not visited ANY of them all summer, even though they are all active and interesting groups.)

To participate in my own small way, I agreed to be a contest judge for their Unpublished Beacon contest. And it inspired me write about a little-understood and widely-abused part of speech: the gerund, and why writers should shun them.

Why did it inspire me? Because I saw an excessive amount of gerunds in almost all of the entries I read.

First, a definition: according to the OWL:

  • A gerund is “a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun”. I call it a verb that has been demoted to a noun.

They are not to be confused with present-tense verb forms, like “I am running.”

Why are they bad? Well, they aren’t bad. But they are passive. You are taking a perfectly good verb and destroying it. As writers, we need to be active. Consider the following gerund-loaded paragraph.

Fighting always made Hrogar feel inadequate. What he did best was singing. His father was always shouting at him for practicing his scales. But the last thing he wanted to do was sword slinging.

Sorry it was such a convoluted example. I don’t usually write this way.

So what is wrong with the above paragraph? It is bland. There is no life in it. No one is doing anything.

How would I normally write it? Completely different, like this:

Hrogar hated the feel of a sword in his hand. He could never quite grip it properly. He wished his father could accept that all he really wanted to do was sing. After all, even Vikings needed skalds.

When you make yourself avoid gerunds (and passive voice, participles, adverbs and adjectives) all that is left are verbs. It forces you to rethink your sentences, and what is left is so much stronger.

I challenge you to take a chapter of your work and make it gerund-free. Let us know how you did!

A Round of Words in 80 Days

Hey everyone. Sorry about the long gap in posts. I did put a new face on this site, and I slapped my header image back on the heading, after resizing it to fit this layout.

I’m feeling a bit demotivated by having a wordpress.com blog. There’s so much I like doing that I now cannot do–not even as a premium member. Therefore, soon–not now–I will be in the market for a super-secure domain provider. When I find one, I will be calling and grilling them with questions, the most important being, how often do you do security updates on your software? The answer that I’ll be looking for is “as soon as they become available.” When I find one, and when I can do a withdrawal from the time bank (i.e. take a vacation day), I’ll move back to a self-hosted blog.

So–onto the obscure title of this post.

I was just thinking of setting some goals for myself–goals that include regular blogging, when I navigated over to Robin Barclay’s site for some posting inspiration. She put up a post that lined to A Round of Words in 80 Days, Intrigued, I clicked through. And I found a writing challenge that acknowledges I have a life. In fact, that’s their tagline.

So, off to some goal-setting. Mine is in the form of a weekly task list.

  • Sunday
    • 2000 words
    • Blog post
    • Visit all blogs in Folk Often Seen Here box
  • Monday
    • 500 words or one hour writing/revising
  • Tuesday
    • 500 words or one hour writing/revising
  • Wednesday
    • Blog post
    • Visit all blogs in Folks Often Seen Here box
  • Thursday
    • 500 words or one hour writing/revising
  • Friday
    • 500 words or one hour writing/revising
  • Saturday
    • Weekly To Dos

I’m not going to set a writing goal for Saturday because Sunday often ends up a writing marathon day anyway, and Saturday we are often in and out of the house all day. Saturday will be a good day to set aside writing and get done all the things that I need to get done, such as going through the huge stack of papers that have been accumulating on my desk.

Afternoon Thunderstorm Weather, and other musings

As I write this, the clouds are gathering for another Florida afternoon thundershower. When I was a girl, this was a common thing and we drove our parents crazy all summer long while the five us us were cooped up in the house. My father called it afternoon thundershower season. Those afternoons would last  f o r e v e r.

For the last few years, we didn’t have thundershowers like this one. But now they are back, and back, and back again.

The benefit is they keep the atmosphere cooler. This summer, we have had very few days above 95 degrees. Or at least it seems that way because by the time the late afternoon comes around, it is 85 degrees and the humidity from the thundershower is blowing away. Our grass is the greenest it has ever been. Our shrubs are perfect.

Inside the house, it is dark, and the fans are blowing. we hear a faint rumble from time to time because the heart of the thunderstorm is rarely overhead.

Now that I have the Jeep, I just want to be outdoors. And the weather refuses to cooperate.

~*~

I just finished Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law. I’ll try to review it next week; this week I’ll be taking a few days off so my mom does not have to be alone while she recovers from hip replacement surgery. Fortunately, there are a lot of us, and most of us are able to pitch in a vacation day or two. My turn is at the end of the week.

~*~

Writing update! Kind of.

I am currently in thinking mode about how to best rewrite a scene toward the end of Magic by Starlight. It is one of those scenes that I need to remove and replace, while keeping some critical outcomes. In the meantime, I have some other things I could be working on, including East of Yesterday, an Accidental Enchantments story, a Petroleum Sunset story, or one of my backburnered projects. But I confess, I am not.

Instead, I’ve been playing Skyrim.

Bad writer. Bad!

But Skyrim is so fun! My character is 16th level now, and I am now able to fight a dragon without passing the remote over to my husband. I like the idea of being able to earn Thaneships and having houses in every city. (Of course in Morrowind, I had houses in every city as well, but that was because I took over the houses after killing the evil occupant as part of some quest. They closed that loophole in Skyrim.) I’m not so keen on the idea of taking a side in a civil war that my character has no real stake in. So far, I’ve avoided doing so.

But it’s a dreadful time-suck, and I have tried not to let it take up too much of my time. I have not played it today. (But I did watch my husband play.) As soon as I finish this post, I’ll fire up the manuscript and see if I can get in a few hundred words. I promise.

After all, the weather isn’t much good for anything else today.