A day of protest for the #MILLIONSMISSING from ME/CFS: May 25th, 2016

(not my shoes*)

(these are from Wikipedia)

I AM ONE OF THE #MILLIONSMISSING

I am being represented in Washington by a pair of my shoes.

Black high heels I used to wear to work, and when giving physics presentations such as the one I gave in the week of November 5, 1989, at the American Physical Society Annual Meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics in Anaheim, California.

I came back from that meeting with a raging fever; my doctor had antibiotics waiting for me, but I never got well again.

I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome by an infectious diseases specialist. I was lucky; in those days getting a diagnosis was hit or miss, and the stories of people misdiagnosed for years were rampant even then.

Lucky – in the sense of knowing what was wrong. But the specialist and I looked at each other; he knew he was conferring a walking death sentence. I knew, even back then, that nothing would ever be the same.

It hasn’t been.

Research money allotted by Congress was diverted, many if not most doctors still don’t believe it’s real, and they still tell you it’s all in your head, to buck up and get some exercise, and stop goldbricking. The ones that acknowledge its existence have nothing to offer as a cure; treatments are palliative; and nothing lets you go back to what you were.

May they rot in whatever level of hell is appropriate.

It really shouldn’t be my job to figure out my illness, should it?

Back to Washington – and Seattle, and Melbourne, and…

Someone with far more energy than me – or their friends and families – has organized a Stand In. With the rubric #MILLIONSMISSING, they asked us to send a pair of our shoes, and a single choice of what we are missing the most in our lives.

I wrote: ‘I miss research physics.’

Someone from #MEAction will take these pairs of shoes (*I don’t have a picture of mine – that would have been too organized, and I had to work very hard to get my pair mailed as it was), and make a display so that the media and legislators have some idea.

There are millions of us worldwide – and somehow we have been left to cope with a huge public health disaster which robs society of the work we would have done – by ourselves.

At least, that’s how it’s felt to me. There are no specialists in New Jersey. There are a few in the nation, and many quacks, and many non-specialists doing the best they can dealing with symptoms. Some elaborate protocols that supposedly help – but require many months of elaborate regimens of supplements that I can’t even think of following; those are often used, at their own expense, by people so sick they have to do something.

But with no diagnostic criterion and approved treatment, insurance companies are reluctant to pay what should be their part – and very sick patients have to wrestle with getting both care and payment.

Not that there is a standard of care.

It’s getting more common to know someone with CFS

Or ME as some call it, or CFIDS, or the laughable SEID, or Yuppie flu, or chronic mono, or… The ‘experts’ spend much time arguing about these details.

Me, I think it’s going to turn out to be a post-viral thingy: you get something, it wreaks destruction, the virus may or may not stay around, but your cells no longer manufacture energy from your food.

I imagine a whole bunch of other complicated syndromes with some of the same symptoms, from Gulf War Syndrome to chronic Lyme, may benefit when researchers finally figure out how this works.

Meanwhile, those of us who have these things wish we’d had Ebola. Or HIV. Or TB. Or leprosy. Or anything that used to be a death sentence and is now managed, in many cases, by modern medicine.

Have a happy day – and give us a passing thought. And a prayer.

And understand we are not lazy, and are certainly not getting anything out of this.

And all we want is our lives back, so that we can go back to contributing to society the way we were doing when hit by the random freakish act of Nature.

There are an awful lot of us. Millions. And we are missing. From our lives – and from yours.


What can you do? Be aware. There are foundations of patients supporting research, and activists, and support groups if you want to contribute with your volunteer activity or financially. I belong to the New Jersey CFS Association. I can’t tell you which is most effective, but MEAction organized this event.


Just for today, I will remind you that Kary Ashe, the heroine of Pride’s Children, has CFS – and copes as well as she can, while trying to contribute SOMETHING to the world. Symptoms vary all over the map in severity; she is one of the possibilities, in many ways typical.

Structure is necessary and integral to fiction

without structureDO YOU WANT A TALE – OR A STORY?

I’m not only an extreme plotter, but I’m a structuralist.

I’m working on the first scene of Book 2. And making very, very sure that it works structurally, with the book, with the beginning, with the plot, and especially with the ending.

The brain craves storytelling, but it craves more than content, it craves analysis.

And analysis is structural. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. My mother used to drive me crazy when she’d tell me about someone, and then, when I’d ask, ‘what happened?’ she would say, ‘I don’t know.’ or ‘that’s all I heard.’

She had illustrated a point, given me information, but wouldn’t give me a resolution I could hang onto.

She was telling me tales, and for those, the fact that it happened is enough.

Story is much more than that.

How is structure important?

Here’s an example from non-fiction:

Imagine I’m talking about the root causes of poverty, illiteracy, whatever, and you’ve come to hear me because I’m supposed to be an expert.

But I tell you about four contributing factors, and I do a short one, a VERY long one, and then another two short factors, briefly, because I’m running out of time.

What are you left with?

NOTHING you didn’t already know.

And it drives you crazy because I told a tale, took your time – and didn’t make a point.

Now, imagine I started with the smallest point, continued to the next shortest, then the next, and finished by spending my time telling you about one of the causes. Wouldn’t you expect that to be the most important cause I have to talk about? And wouldn’t you expect me to say something significant and important about it?

By giving it space and time, I have made it important – and the rest of my presentation had better support that.

Or I could start with the important point, spend time on it, and then tell you in quick succession other possibilities, followed by a quick conclusion. Wouldn’t you end up wondering WTF? Did I run out of time – or why did I not eliminate the easy ones first?

How does this work in fiction?

Storytelling is presenting information in such a way as to emphasize WHY you’re telling the story.

I expect you to reach a conclusion, tell it to me, support it, and teach me something I would otherwise have to figure out on my own.

Structure is intentional. If you need to tell a story in chronological order (a common requirement), you still have to choose which parts to tell, and how to make them fit a structure that will let the reader absorb it. Or you are getting in your own way, and are telling an anecdote.

So it is very important that I consider the structure I’m going to foist on the reader, from the very first scene. Or the reader will notice. And not like it.

That’s not what I promised.

Are you happy when you notice a story has no real structure?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make graphics for these posts – I use the free account, but they have far more capabilities if you get the paid one.


Remember, if you like a blogger’s prose, consider that the blogger’s fiction is written by the same person. Try it – you might like it.

I’m trying to get myself to put up some short stories; it’s on the To Do list.

Pride’s Children. On Amazon.

Non-24: When someone you love is an okapi

Hoofbeats‘WHEN YOU HEAR HOOFBEATS, THINK HORSES, NOT ZEBRAS’ IS A STANDARD INSTRUCTION GIVEN TO DOCTORS.

In other words, the problem is more likely to be caused by something common and well-known, than by some esoteric illness or virus or unknown bacterium.

More likely, yes.

But what happens to the person who isn’t even a zebra’s worth of common? To the person with the weird (ie, not yet well understood) illness?

Why am I asking this question? Because I just got a request for feedback from a ‘second opinion’ company, about which more in a bit.

I didn’t think three things could strike the same family: me, a father who is an extreme geek with experimental data, and an okapi*.

Never heard of an okapi? An okapi is an African ungulate that looks a bit like a gazelle someone has exchanged the legs of with a zebra. Yup. The legs are striped, the body plain brown.

It is real.

Once you see one, you will remember. Here is one from Wikipedia Commons for your convenience:

Okapi2.jpg

Horse treatment is standard – What, it doesn’t work for you?

And when your little okapi keeps getting standard medical treatment as a HORSE, and you finally figure out what the matter is, and ‘they’ (the medical establishment) could have figured it out a LOT sooner if they had even considered your input as a parent, well, the fury is rather large. Especially when this has been going on at LEAST EIGHT years and has ruined your little okapi’s life.

It is ironic, literally, that the mother in this family (me) has an invisible illness that is characterized as ‘of unknown origin, caused by attention-seeking, probably psychosomatic’ by most of said medical establishment. If you have one of these, you know how you are treated by doctors. Because this mother does, she has learned to be very determined and to question EVERYTHING.

But when you go to see doctors, TELL THEM what is going on with the okapi-child, and they basically ignore you because they can’t find something their little horse-tests tells them is treatable by normal horse-treatment methods, and they blame your little okapi for not following useless horse-recommendations better, then you start to get VERY frustrated.

Horse treatment makes okapis worse, but it must be the okapi’s fault

Worse, they give your poor little okapi things that don’t work, and then say that’s all they have. And refuse to dig deeper!

And the medical establishment is happier with a multiple-disease ‘diagnosis’ of which two parts are psychiatric and the third is ‘mild’ – and not responding to their ‘treatment’ because the patient isn’t following it – that you start to feel as if you, the mother of the okapi, must also be insane.

Small rant against the medical profession

You trust ‘medical professionals’ to deal with the medical side, the physical and mental side of living in a body.

They cultivate this to the point of absurdity by their authoritative demeanor and white coats and beeping machines.

And then they let you down, over and over and over – which is normal because these body/mind things are complicated, and insurance companies – but they make it worse by telling you, the victim here, that it’s your fault.

Bad enough the SLEEP DOCTORS – over all these years – couldn’t figure it out; after all, they’re HORSE-doctors. But you’d think they’d know there were other animals in existence, and that they might run across one every great while. They should be LOOKING.

The insurance company pays for a SECOND OPINION

The ‘second opinion’ people took a very careful history – and  ignored everything we told them. (These are the people you’re supposed to be able to rely on when the ‘first opinion horse-doctors’ don’t seem to be solving anything and are recommending things you are not so sure about.)

And didn’t even say, “if you think that’s what it is, here is what it will take to confirm or deny that.” And gave as a suggestion something that had already been tried for a LONGER period , and then ignored by the originating doctor AND the supposed specialist.

So we parents got involved. I took the information we’d been telling the latest batch of doctors, sleep and otherwise, and asked myself what it meant. I discovered a rare sleep disorder called Non-24 Hour Sleep/Wake Disorder. And it fit.

Non-24 Hour Sleep/Wake Disorder – inability to sync to the 24-hour day

Non-24 is a disease of the inability to sync circadian clocks with the normal day. Normal people have a 24+ hour day, which is synced, via light through the eyes to the pineal gland, to the actual day, adjusting as necessary for the seasonal changes in the amount of daylight. About half of all totally blind people can’t do this – they have Non-24.

And an unknown number of sighted people have Non-24.

Reported day-lengths range from a bit over 24 to several hours more. Our little okapi has a visible rotation, which turned out to be 27 hours. Once you get started on such a rotation, many things conspire to make it a bit longer, few to shorten it, and almost none to shorten it spontaneously to ‘normal.’

If you look up the medical websites and the literature, the disorder is considered rare in sighted people. After going through what we’ve gone through, my guess is that, since erratic sleep behavior, late nights, staying up all night, sleeping late, etc., are common behaviors among teens and young adults (especially college students), Non-24 may instead be highly underdiagnosed.

“I can’t help you if you don’t follow the protocol.”

How to find out if you’re lazy and characterless – or suffering from a sleep disorder:

We had to go to the extreme effort of getting 10 weeks worth of data ourselves, and having a professional statistician analyze it, and then find our own specialist (which the insurance company refused to pay for in-network, saying they have competent doctors there – colleagues of the horse-treatment one in the SAME building).

The specialist took one look at the graphs produced by the okapi’s father and said, “Yup. That’s it. You got it.”

No, the mother is not crazy. She is being ignored and discounted and treated like an idiot.

No, the child is NOT a horse. It isn’t even a zebra. It is an okapi.

And damned lucky to have the crazy determined woman for a mother and the extreme geek statistician for a father.

And incredibly lucky to find a researcher who studies okapis. And just might know how to treat them.

The moral of this story:

  • Listen to the crazy woman
  • Or: at least consider the possibility of okapis because you actually listened.
  • Or: a determined mother is worth something.
  • Or: be persistent – and be prepared for it to take a LONG time when you’re up against the medical/insurance establishment.

The sad part:

The treatment may take some time, but is not even expensive. It could have been tried a year ago, years ago. The standard horse-treatment actually makes the problem worse – because of the timing – though it MAY accidentally work if several weeks of it are followed (long enough to hit the right spot by accident – could be four weeks of misery). Maybe – as it might not be recognized???

I guess we should be happy this didn’t happen, because there is no understanding attached to accidental cures or treatments if the next time the problem recurs, it doesn’t work again by accident because, for example, it it not done for the right number of weeks again.

Even sadder: we picked the original sleep doctor (this time) because we were told she knew N24SWD. She didn’t, really. But we were getting surer and surer; she didn’t listen. She pooh-poohed the idea, said the data didn’t confirm it, said the insurance company wouldn’t approve a longer trial of actigraphy, said it wouldn’t show the patterns if the okapi was trying to pretend it was a horse so as not to be completely isolated; this isn’t true: the 10 weeks data we provided, and the scientific papers we were shown, took this into account, and talked about people trying to live with N24SWD and a social 24-hour day.

We are incredibly lucky, too, that a researcher was located in Philadelphia, a reasonable driving distance for us in NJ. We are incredibly lucky that he picks up his own phone! – listened to me! – accepted the data we sent him – and had a spot for us within a week. And that he has two sighted patients, and knows of more, and knows the researchers working on the larger problem of N24SWD in blind patients, who have the scientific integrity not to just study the patients who might be helped by the drug companies supporting the research (blind patients) but sighted ones as well.

And that feedback I mentioned at the beginning?

We had submitted ALL of the available data (they went back 8 years, to the first sleep doctor when she was a teen who was tired all the time, and the first sleep studies; plus took an extensive intake interview – almost an hour on the phone – during which we emphasized over and over that she was rotating), submitted it to a ‘specialist’ at a major university, and he didn’t even say, ‘This needs further looking into,’ except to recommend another week’s data-gathering with an actigraph. The company wants feedback. I restrained myself. Their ‘analysis’ was useless – and set us back three months while they took forever to gather the ‘data’ and run through a couple of ‘specialists.’

I’m still trying to figure out how to give them ‘feedback’ when they obviously don’t listen.

* How do you find out if you have Non-24?

The gold standard is to wear an actigraph for long enough to show the rotating pattern. A sleep log will show the pattern if kept accurately.

But the easiest first step is to notice the rotation: always going to bed later (if allowed to), culminating with entire nights spent up; long daytime sleep (if allowed); inability to wake up; chronic daytime exhaustion; missing important things in life such as exams by sleeping through them; and the inability to just ‘go to bed.’

NOTE: Actigraphy is done with a special wrist monitor – expensive, and borrowed through the sleep doctor (covered by insurance if it covers sleep studies). Unless conditions are perfect, the two-week period doesn’t show enough of the pattern. Instead, we bought and used a Jawbone UP3 because my husband was able to download the actual data, and massage it into the same kind of graphs produced by the commercial device. It was non-trivial; he is the expert statistician. Okapi uses it routinely now – the Non-24 specialist appreciates the data.


If you like my prose, consider reading my stories – they are written by the same person. Free short stories here, debut novel on Amazon. I’m working on more.

Thanks to Quozio.com for the quote software used to make the first image.

ME/CFS: Writer’s personal and professional inextricably entangled

missing.millionsTODAY IS MAY 12TH, INTERNATIONAL ME/CFS AWARENESS DAY

I had hoped, by this year, to have made more of a splash with a novel which has a main character who deals with CFS – and some of the complications, from exhaustion, to limited exercise capability (and especially very limited ability to INCREASE exercise over time), to pain, to brain fog.

It is difficult to write a character who is sick without triggering the pity response in readers – and then immediately checking out with “Who wants to read about that?”

It is difficult to write a character without making her seem inspirational for dealing with a major illness – this is called Inspiration Porn by disabled people who rightly don’t appreciate being called inspirational because they can get out of bed in the morning and try to make the best life they can of what Life has handed them.

And yet saying that giving a character CFS (or the old standby from the Romantic days, tuberculosis – otherwise known as consumption) is the same as giving them green eyes, just another character feature, is completely wrong. Though green eyes may dictate a character’s choice of lipstick or jewelry or clothing color, a major CHRONIC disease is a huge commitment for a writer, since it affects everything in the story. EVERYTHING. From the subject choice to the characters to how the writer (me) has to set up scenes and plot.

I write between the Scylla of ‘ick’ and the Charybdis of ‘does she still have that?’ Going too far in either direction immediately loses a portion of the audience, prospective or actual.

Today is International ME/CFS Awareness Day

And this post is about that, and it’s about me, and it’s about the story I chose to write, TOO.

I can’t help that. I have always said that I write from the fullness or paucity of who I am.

I don’t know how other writers do otherwise; I’m sure they find ways to tuck part of themselves and their life’s experience even into Sauron.

What it’s like, for me

I try to ignore it as much as possible, and yet a lot of my time is spent making sure I don’t do any of the things I know will bring that day’s writing to a complete non-starter. Such as eating too many carbs, not getting enough sleep, ignoring the start time for the next nap.

I spend a lot of time staring at the wall, able to surf the web gently, but not even capable of writing a blog post (and you can tell from the results how little thought goes into some of them!).

You don’t even want to hear the scads of coping methods – what’s the point?

My one determination is to let CFS destroy as little of my remaining life as possible; I’m partially successful at that. The rest of the time I’m fooling myself.

And I am depending on the kindness of family – who ignore my inability to be a normal participant in family life, to pull my weight, to not need things more than my ‘fair share.’

Even with an absolute minimum of what we can reasonably hold me responsible for, I get further behind every day. And any day that has ‘special stuff,’ such as today (which ALSO has me having to deal with insurance by phone – or risk not having pain relief because the company switched to a generic WHICH DOESN’T WORK) takes what little good time I have and pours it out like water on hot sand.

I don’t say this for any other reason than to stand witness on this day.

May 12, 2016.

Another year gone by with no real progress.

My 27th.

Verisimilitude – the appearance of Life

Considering what many of us PWCs (People with CFS) go through, the fact that I can sometimes write, and have actually worked my way through publishing a novel, is just short of miraculous – and I’m rather proud of the results.

In case you were wondering, things WERE better when I was Kary’s age; the mobility problems which bedevil my life came later, and might have been avoided (I won’t go into surgeons and knives – what’s the point? Hehe) had I known a LOT more, and had I not been the beneficiary of ‘old lady medicine’ (the kind of treatment which assumes that after a certain age, you aren’t worth saving).

Kary is NOT me, except in the small details and the normal amount of characterization that writers use: details such as outlook on life, a background we either have or research, a house in a place I’ve visited, a life in a place I know well enough to portray realistically for the purposes of the story.

Kary’s story is not mine: other than sharing a disease and some vacation landscaping and a proximity to Princeton, my life is routine – I have been happily married for 41 years now (Happy Anniversary again, dear husband), have never lost what she loses, have not had the experience of having big publishing pick up a historical novel that happens to go best-seller, have a different professional and personal background, don’t have the capacity to get through Anatomy…

Maybe we share having been affected by a particular set of books – but we grew up in different countries, so there can’t be that much overlap.

Wandering minds and brain fog

I’ll stop here, and list a few links to places doing a far better job of staying focused on real-life ME/CFS.

Me, I keep shying away from letting it have any more of me than I absolutely have to cede.

Links for ME/CFS International Awareness Day and CFS in general

  1. ME/CFS Action is doing a protest in Washington on May 25th (the day they could get a permit?). I have sent a pair of shoes which will represent me – if it isn’t obvious by now that there’s no way I could go there, park, walk, protest, …, you haven’t been reading this post or the blog.
  2. Some background on Jennie Spotila’s blog about the highly controversial PACE trials in Britain which in 2011 claimed to prove that all we need is behavior therapy to stop seeing ourselves as sick, and exercise therapy to get better. The British health system would love nothing better than to state there is already a ‘proven’ therapy which costs them very little, and that patients with ME/CFS are lazy – and sweep the whole thing under the proverbial carpet. BTW, when you want one-payer health systems, one of the things you get is a single-therapy for everything approach – and entrenched cost-cutting measures because of rationing.’ Look well, oh wolves,’ before you sign on. Budgets are ALWAYS getting cut.
  3. If you want to find out how many ‘solutions’ have been proposed, spend some time at Cort Johnson’s Health Rising blog – and you will be immediately depressed at the enormous number of unproven methods and supplements and ideas that have been put forth over the years, none of which have fixed much.
  4. Last one for today is also Jennie Spotila’s: she keeps track of one of the indicators of how our National Institutes for Health spend research money. When researchers, and administrators at government agencies, don’t believe something is real, they have no guilt about diverting money to their pet projects (some diseases have WONDERFUL PR – PR agencies and lobbyists riding the gravy train completely out of proportion to the number of people affected and the severity of the illness). And every week she points to one of the indicators of research money AGAIN being zero for a major disease.

I don’t mean to disparage all the researchers who ARE doing good things – without them we wouldn’t have ANY awareness to celebrate/memorialize/trumpet today. Some of them have been downright heroic.

I do mean to warn about the abundant quackery that rises up when the diagnosis isn’t known and there is no treatment that works for a ‘condition.’ People need hope, even when it dumps them with nothing, and money, time, and effort spent.

Depress you enough yet?

Not my intent. ‘Awareness’ is all we’re going for here today – readers here are no more responsible for fixing things than I am; if anything I am more (except that I can’t – but for the fiction).

I believe mightily in the power of fiction to change hearts and minds.

And a final plea: if you haven’t, consider reading Pride’s Children. And giving it to people or recommending if you like it. And writing a review.


MY GRATITUDE TO STENCIL for the ability to make images with quotes. If you use a lot, try them out.

 

 

 

 

 

Worldwide sale means thirteen Kindle marketplaces

worldwide

IT DOESN’T MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS* – sale details below

Okay; I promised myself this one when my brain-fogged brain figured out that Kindle Countdown Deals are only available for the UK and the US: have a sale EVERYONE who has access to a Kindle or Fire device (or app) can take advantage of.

Amazon is not to blame; country regulations are to blame. At some point in the future, maybe France’s arcane regulations will allow online Countdown sales; don’t hold your breath – the French (or should I say the French government, for good or ill) have all kinds of regulations designed to keep prices for books high, digital books out of the marketplace, and bookstores in business.

It’s their country – their laws and rules and taxes.

The only time it’s my problem is when I wanted to hold a Kindle Countdown Deal for Pride’s Children in France.

I can, sort of, but I will be manually changing the prices daily (and hoping Amazon, which was very fast when I did it today, would continue to be fast – they don’t guarantee it). And I wouldn’t have the cute little Countdown deal image that goes on the product page, and tells people time is running out.

WAY too much trouble for moi.

*So that everyone who has access gets a sale (which ends May 1):

New authors need READERS, REVIEWERS, and RECOMMENDERS at the beginning far more than they need revenue; the small business that is a single-practitioner press (Trilka Press for me) has to become known, and that takes marketing and advertising and sometimes annoying everyone you know, on and off Twitter and Facebook.

(In fact, if you’ve heard this one before and have no interest, just skip the rest of this post.)

If the practitioner is slow, like me, the usual indie recommendation – write more books – is just another annoying thing ‘they’ say, with no bearing on your real life. Because you can’t.

Therefore, you want to make sure you don’t neglect anyone – which brings us to the following thirteen links for the marketplaces where Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) sells mobi (and paper?) versions of your book if you  set yourself up in business with Mr. Bezos.

How to do your own sale:

Nobody told me – I think they must have assumed I knew. Nope. Newbie here. Just figured it out this month: I can do my own sale. In India. Or Canada. And Mexico, Australia, Brazil, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan, the US, and the UK.

But I have to do the work (I did: I checked out every link personally – they are not all carbon copies of each other with a tiny bit changed).

IF you have always wanted your own personal copy of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, but you live in Mexico, today is your lucky day. You WILL need an account with the appropriate Amazon, but then you can even buy it cheap, and leave it on their website until you eventually break down and buy a Kindle. Or get the Kindle app for your iPhone or desktop or laptop or iPad – or wherever you consume your digital breakfast.

At this point I’m not even going to nag you to read it (next week).

But I can’t do this very often – you guys want me writing NETHERWORLD, not futzing about running sales for PURGATORY, right? It takes more time and energy than you realize getting all these details right (not sure I have!), and it has to come from the ‘good time’ I have relatively little of.

I read the self-publishing blogs daily, and stay current, and ESPECIALLY pay attention to ‘things that can go wrong if you mess up’ and don’t pay attention. Trust me – I can mess things up so bad I don’t know if I can straighten them out.

The links (finally – she is going to stop talking and cut to the links!) for the 0.99-equivalent sale ‘worldwide’:

PLEASE be so kind as to let me know if ANYTHING doesn’t work. You guys were WAY too kind to mention before that the sales weren’t available in Australia and the others – and I never meant to leave you out.

If you don’t want to buy Pride’s Children or read it – that’s absolutely fine, I’m very clearly not everyone’s taste, as so many people have kindly told me lately, some MUCH more nicely than others.

I’d love to hear 1) if I’m doing anything wrong, and 2) what your experience as a reader or writer and sales was like.


** Many thanks to Stencil for the ability to make a few images a month free – they have a lot to offer and it is VERY easy to use. If you make a lot of image quotes, get the paid version.

You like a writer’s style and voice – or you don’t

PRIDE'S CHILDREN

let fiction bloomEDITING? REALLY?

Way back in the dark ages, I submitted the manuscript (digiscript?) of Pride’s Children to an organization dedicated to vetting indie novelists, and giving them a ‘Seal of Approval’ which could be used on the cover of their novel to indicate ‘quality’ or ‘goodness’ or ‘lack of indie crap content.’ I will call them XXX.

And then I forgot all about it.

I just received their reply, a reply to which I take a great deal of umbrage.

Here is their email:

Dear Alicia,

I regret to inform you that your book Pride’s Children did not gain XXX approval. Our assessor said that though the book had an interesting premise, it would need a thorough line edit before it could be considered for approval.

In particular, she found the following issues:

Extreme overuse of incomplete sentences to the point where it becomes a repetitive sentence structure.

Too…

View original post 666 more words

Is literary fiction a category or a quality?

you write areDO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Do you even have a choice?

I’m not sure exactly why, but I have found every single one of my careful decisions, made during five years of deliberations and reading the blogs, questioned lately.

  • Cover
  • Pricing
  • Style and voice
  • Book length
  • Category
  • Marketing

By people who know better, know what they like, know what I need and should be using.

Okay, in some cases I actually asked. So I deserve what I got for insecurity.

But none of it has helped: I have not been able to nod wisely and say, “Thank you – that’s just what I needed.” Too stubborn. Too pigheaded. Too ME.

So I trundle on, and have the nerve to enjoy it.

Note to myself from a while back:

“It seems ‘literary’ is going to have to be my Amazon category – the other ones just don’t work for me.

Emphasize the characterization and the loving detailing of the thoughts of the three main characters, and maybe I’ll sell more.”

I’ve been fighting this. Choosing my style of writing and my voice keeps getting me in trouble with the ‘cognoscenti’ (new post on the Pride’s Children site on editors who don’t get it, but feel free to pronounce sentence anyway – and yes, the pun is intentional).

‘Literary’ can be pretentious.

Literary goes from sublime to ridiculous as a category. Many, many books have a literary quality which goes far above and beyond the words needed to simply tell the story. I would put such classics as Dune into the literary quality category – and definitely leave Dan Brown’s books out.

‘Literary’ can interfere with plot, slowing down a story to the proverbial snail’s pace to admire the local flora and fauna. With pretty words and swooping sentences. When I find myself skimming, and then skipping, large chunks of description with no greater point than ‘close observation,’ I know I’ve run into the kind I don’t like. Your mileage may vary.

The kicker: how to categorize your fiction on Amazon so readers can find it?

Literary is, of what’s offered as a genre, the closest. ‘General fiction’ could be anything.

And yet what I’m NOT full of is literary allusions, and I don’t need my readers to have a MFA degree to be able to read my writing. You may skip the more literary epigraphs at the beginnings of my chapters with relative impunity, though they’re put there for a reason. When my negative reviewer (so far) wrote in her review, “The number of quotations before each chapter was overkill – for the most part they only made sense to me after the chapter had been read.” – I did a fist pump, because that is the exact reason they are the way they are. She didn’t like it – her prerogative – but like everything else I do, it was INTENTIONAL.

I’m going to get excoriated for pretentiousness if I claim to write literary indie, and want to make a small corner for myself in literary writing, but the truth is that I was brought up (by myself) reading the classics – because that is what was available.

When I taught myself to write, I spent a lot of time with quality teachers such as Sol Stein, to learn how to give a sentence or a phrase the nuance that goes beyond writing fast.

This doesn’t mean the thesaurus is my best friend, because if most of your readers don’t understand your language, what’s the point?

Keeping this up:

For Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, I don’t seem to be doing anything different this time around. It was a long time between finishing Book 1 (PURGATORY), and being ready to revise the rough draft of Book 2 (NETHERWORLD) – almost exactly a year – but the new scenes are coming back to the same process as if I had never stopped.

This is good, because I want the trilogy to feel as ‘of a piece.’ Pride’s Children was planned as a unit, and if I had been a faster writer, would have been published as one. A very long one. But I think CreateSpace has a limit to how fat a trade paperback can be, and the three volumes in one binding would not have been a possibility.

But I have not, cannot, and will not change my voice and style – I don’t have that kind of energy or self-control. It is what it is.

Mental Dialysis, slow CFS brain, and extreme resting

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SLOW BRAIN SYNDROME YIELDS TO EXTREME RESTING

‘Brain fog’ slows the thinking process to a standstill. Other than the passage of time, is there anything else you can do to get rid of it?

I call it ‘Mental Dialysis.’

‘The passage of time’ simply means to keep doing what you’re doing, at less and less brain efficiency, until it’s time to go to bed – and hope for better tomorrow.

Brains are live things. They think and messages go to and fro in an odd manner: along a nerve fiber, the conduction is electrical; when you get to the end of the axon, the leap is made across a synapse, and that leap is chemical – a release and diffusion and reception on the other side of neurotransmitters; the next never goes electrical again; and so on until the message reaches its intended target (a memory cell, an action cell, a pain sensor, a happiness sensor…).

Slow brain syndrome – a gummed up brain

Well, mine don’t work very fast much of the time. My guess would be that the part that is messed up is at the synaptic gap, and has to do with any of the parts of the transmission process, from creating and releasing the little burst of neurotransmitters, to diffusion across the gap, to the speed with which the receptors can process the chemical message.

One of the things that affects this process is whatever synaptic fluid is IN that gap, and what it contains.

Normally, the fluid is scrubbed of ‘the products of thinking’ on a regular basis, cleaning the fluid of extraneous debris, so the neurotransmitters can float across again.

Where’s the holdup?

CFS brains can have trouble at any of the three steps. I don’t know if production of neurotransmitters has as much trouble in the CFS person as production of energy from food – but I think that is not the problem, as my lack of energy is continuous, and I have no aerobic capacity (where the process speeds up because the demand does).

But I’m pretty sure that the debris is not removed nearly as quickly from the CFS brain/synapse fluid as in normal people.

Possibly there is inflammation (it’s been theorized inflammation in the brain is a continuous state for us), and the physical SPACE the fluid occupies is such as to make cleaning it take longer because the fluid can’t move around well.

And one of the interesting things that went through my Science News recently was a report of mice who got examined when they were so relaxed they fell asleep – and noticing that their brain cells shrunk a bit, and the spaces between got correspondingly larger, and – the important part – debris was cleared away from the fluid FASTER.

How does extreme resting help?

I think that’s what’s going on during my ‘naps.’ I am doing two things simultaneously:

1) not putting any MORE debris into the fluid, because I shut down thinking, and more importantly, sensory input such as visual and auditory information, and physical tasks which the brain runs such as getting around and using your motor skills, which create a lot of brain debris and uses a lot of your brain’s capacity (think of shutting down several programs on your computer because the one you want to use seems to be running slow if the others are in the background, chewing up CPU time), and

2) giving the brain more room for the fluid, and no competing processes to catching up with the clearing away of debris (a lower level task than thinking or looking).

I call this my ‘mental dialysis’ time: no input plus conditions which promote dejunking.

I ALWAYS wake up/get up from these ‘naps’ with more capacity than I had when I forced myself to lie down (what adult likes being forced to take 3-5 naps a day?).

After mental dialysis, the brain works better – for a while

SOMETHING has happened, and I can now think MORE clearly than when I lay down.

We do some of this every night during sleep, but then wake up and overload the system just by figuring out who we are and what we were doing yesterday and what we have to do now and tomorrow and we’re hungry and we have to get moving…

In computer analog terms, I stop running all but the essential programs, and let the CPU run all its little cleanup programs and memory reclamation and reorganizing and cache cleanout and… that are usually in the background and need to be rolled in and out when there is a little bit of free time.

And then my brain/computer is more efficient – for a while.

And why is this so hard to use?

Because I’m an adult, making decisions with a brain that is tired and in no mood or capacity for more decisions.

The decision to go lie down and block out the world, JUST as it seems I might be waking up (a lie), and only because 2.5 hours have passed, is counter-intuitive – even after 27 years of battling CFS (not quite as many of knowing how the mental dialysis works). It sounds like this to my inner child: “Why do I have to go to bed? It’s too early, and all the other kids are still out playing.”

I’m working on it (my attitude). It’s nap time. See you all later!

——-

*Image is from Wikipedia article on synapses, Creative Commons license.

The indie author’s artistic integrity is prime

mine THE BUCK STOPS AT THE INDIE AUTHOR, AND IT SHOULD

I am in an odd position. Someone said something about my cover, in a negative way, claiming they said it as ‘tough love.’ As a ‘friend.’ It hurt – because I am very proud of that cover. To have someone suggest, literally, that ‘I still think you’re shooting yourself in the foot with that cover. I’m pretty sure that a mediocre but professional looking cover will outsell a far more evocative but still obviously home-made effort every time.’

For the record, I disagree.

I had to think about it. To figure out why the response was so visceral to something meant kindly.

Bad covers are UBIQUITOUS

I knew, when I created them, that my two placeholder covers were ‘bad.’ Definitely amateur. But I hadn’t yet done ANY studying about design or cover elements or what a cover telegraphs to a potential reader. I knew those were not going to be published, because I also knew I was going to spend the time to learn how to do covers properly.

As I have taught myself to write properly.

But the comment was about the actual cover I published, and for which I spent an entire summer studying graphics and design and covers, and reading books and blog posts. After accumulating at least a year of studying the CONCEPT of ‘cover’ and of looking over the sites of many ‘professional’ cover producers – not one of which I liked. There were plenty of covers in that sample – thousands that I looked at. I added new sites every time a blogger I respect suggested a cover designer.

I’m not even going to mention bad traditional covers; that is shooting guppies in a teacup.

CAN an indie learn cover design?

In the same way I found ONE photo of a woman out of the thousands that I looked at which would do. At ALL. Because of nuance I would never be able to explain (to anyone except a professional photographer I then wouldn’t be able to afford).

The cover I compared to every set of covers I could find on the books I believe are my ‘comps,’ the ones I want to sell with, and whose audience I believe will like my work. And compared to every set of covers I did NOT want (from too literary to too Romance to definitely genres like SF, fantasy, mysteries, and thrillers). Because if you signal ‘Romance’ to a reader, you had better be providing a proper Romance between the covers, or you’ve already lost the marketing war.

WHO’S ON FIRST?

More and more I’m believing that the choices in the indie world are UP TO THE AUTHOR. And they REPRESENT the author. That the whole thing, beginning to end, is an exercise in learning what choices to make, in making those choices, and in standing by those choices because you ARE the Author. The artist. The creative. The creator.

If you choose to use a commercial editor – with all that entails, from finding one to paying one to accepting the edits – it is your choice, it was hard enough to make, and no one has the right to second-guess you.

If you choose a cover, you yourself will decide exactly what you want, even if that means you want to abdicate the responsibility for the cover to someone else. Or you want to learn Pixelmator and do it all YOUR way. Or you want to paint an image from the book. Or you want pale blue letters on a black background, or yellow on green, or WHATEVER.

The COVER is part and parcel with the BOOK now.

I’m starting to believe that when the author gives someone else responsibility for or authority over a part of the production, whether or not money is involved, it is the author’s choice to do so, and the author’s right to revoke that when and if the AUTHOR decides that is necessary. And it is a precious gift.

Whether or not the results SELL is not the validation. It is how the author FEELS about whether the product represents the best the author can do (assuming that’s the goal) that validates.

Now, more than ever before, when you buy an author’s product, you are getting the PURE author, warts and all, artistic judgment and artistic sensibility and esthetic sense all rolled up into a big ball of product. The consumer may like or dislike it, occasionally even returning the product for a refund; the consumer may give the product a bad review – reviews are up to the consumer.

This product has always had the writer’s name right there front and center.

[Whether the writer was a pseudonym or a ghostwriter has never mattered to READERS. And few people even notice the publisher’s name or logo.]

But other people don’t have the right to judge the product – the book – per se. They only have the right to say, “I liked it.” Or, “I didn’t like it.” They will never have the right to say, “It’s wrong.”

———–

How do you feel about the covers you see, if you’re a reader; or have on your own books if you’re a writer, too – whether or not you design them yourself?

Pride’s Children is on Kindle Countdown SALE!

PC1 3D front

I AM DELIGHTED TO ANNOUNCE AN EBOOK SALE FOR PRIDE’S CHILDREN: PURGATORY (BOOK 1)!

The Kindle Countdowns for the US and UK (sale for other marketplaces to follow on April 27 – I’ll let you know again) is announced on the books’ site with a few more details.

Please tell all your friends.

OR go directly to the Amazon US and Amazon UK sites.

When Life hands you lemons, write a blog post about it

PPP plastics HERE ARE A BUNCH OF LEMONS THAT HAVE COME MY WAY LATELY, AND WHAT I’VE DONE WITH THEM

So many things that make you shake your head, and wonder what the world is coming to!

  1. A moment ago, someone I have never heard of sends me an email (name redacted, but I’m not preserving IP for someone who hasn’t the courtesy to find out anything about me):

Alicia,

I thought you might enjoy knowing about my Shakespeare’s SSS adaptation mentioned on NNN Book Critics Circle Roundup Blog and most recently in the XXX Island News:

Sincerely,
UN Owen*

(* points for you if you recognize the name and source)

NNN and XXX are links. The email address looks fairly normal (a Verizon.net address), but I’ve NEVER heard of this person, am not interested in Shakespeare’s SSS, and certainly not in an adaptation! And anyone who thinks you will click on links in an email from a stranger has rocks in his/her head. Not in this world.

2. From a supplier of plastic bags:

“Dear WWW,

I am not sure if you received the “15% off Trash Bags & Can Liners” email promotion that was sent to you last week.

I was just making sure you didn’t miss out on this great special offer as it ends Today, Friday, March 25th.

You can use the coupon code TB316 at checkout to receive the 15% discount or call me directly so that  I may assist you.

As always, I thank you for your past business and look forward to helping you again very soon!

MMM LLL
Senior Sales Representative
PPP plastics company
(###) ###-#### ext. ###
MMM@’PPP plastics company’.com
http://www.iiiiiiii.com

P.S. Happy Easter!”

with my grumpy response:

“Dear MMM,

This kind of aggressive marketing – we buy your bags for a specific purpose maybe every couple of years – is why I just unsubscribed.

If you had looked at our buying history, you would have known that.

The pushy mail marketing turns people off.

Please do not respond.

ABEhrhardt”

Am I being too harsh? What if I were Jewish? Or Hindu? Or had issues with – oh, just about anything. I’m already creeped out enough by ‘personalized’ mail that comes to me on my birthday with ads for local establishments I would never use because they sell things like nail extensions. Honestly, what in my buying history implies I have EVER used a plastic nail extension – I’m female?

3. From SurveyMonkey, which I checked out once because MailChimp – which I was also checking out ONCE – landed me there and I couldn’t figure out how to undo having created an account:

“Case study: Unlocking market trends with targeted surveys

Get insights from real people, really fast

Buy survey responses →”

They don’t know me from Adam. I have ONE book on the market. If I could figure out people to survey (I did look at their categories of available people for sale), I wouldn’t need to do a survey. As I said, ONE book. Couldn’t we be acquaintances first?

——

This is a tiny sample – I have a bunch of emails from people trying to sell me their services the instant I registered my copyright and published a book (hello, if I already published a book, I don’t need your services!).

WHY AM I RANTING? WHY DOES THIS BOTHER ME?

Because it is rude, intrusive, insists on some of my time and attention, HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ME and MY needs.

This is just the tip of the iceberg that lands in my inbox – as it must be landing in other people’s (no, I don’t think I’m specially targeted).

I have Mail set up to divert most of it; one out of 100 or 200 is something that shouldn’t be in the Junk file and I need to see, or I’d delete them automatically. The rest is bad enough – I do NOT use Vi@gra, don’t want my teeth whitened by an anonymous product, and certainly don’t want investment advice from you.

But I am SO not enamored of the ‘targeted’ advertising that isn’t. Targeted. It is lazy, annoying, and extremely unlikely to get a response. Okay, make that COMPLETELY unlikely to get a response.

And it sucks up precious time and energy dealing with it.

And no, I can’t remove my email addresses from circulation – I need them.

Hugh Howey’s blog post today says privacy is dead and good riddance

I disagree (about the good riddance part).

Invasion of privacy has reached astronomic proportions – and is likely to get worse.

Is there an answer other than disconnecting the internet, that vast necessary resource for writers? Beats me.

But at least I get a blog post out of it occasionally.

And practice writing snippy responses with nuance to Senior Sales Representatives – who usually wouldn’t take my calls if they were real, at real positions of authority, at real companies who valued my business. If they didn’t make exactly the right kind of plastic zipper bag we use for heavy duty freezer bags (not their intended use), we could have saved them hundreds in advertising over the years. By telling them to jump in a lake long ago.

End of rant. Thanks for listening. Please feel free to include any rants you feel coming on – in the comments.

Inconvenient ideas for your new novel

inconvenient ideas THEY NEVER COME WHEN YOU NEED THEM

The ones you get when you thought you had everything lined up for the novel, and just needed to write it, and the Muse drops a big What If? in your lap, and you go Hmmm!

And it might be a GOOD IDEA, but it is certainly coming at a BAD TIME.
This happened this morning, and I have to admit it is a) a good idea, and b) fills a small plot hole I had, but hadn’t really thought about much except peripherally.

I think what happened is that as I took care of all the other ideas, assigning them to where they will be developed in the plot line, I cleared up some thinking space, and this little one came out, like Hope from Pandora’s Box, after all the rest had gone.

It provides a nice little conflict, and small but connecting plot line, and fills an empty space on the story’s calendar.

CONFLICT FOR READERS – KEEPS ‘EM HAPPY

On the other hand, it is new, puts things in a different light, and will worry my readers.

THAT was the touchstone.

My motto is ‘Torture Rachel.’

This will nicely torture Rachel.

I hope it will torture other readers, too – making them anxious and slightly unhappy, and annoyed, and…

Sorry, Rachel.

REAL LIFE IS NO DEFENSE

And I have a nice solid example from Real Life where I know exactly how things worked out to use as a template, one I actually understand and liked when it happened.

Not all RL is usable this way: ‘it actually happened’ is a sorry excuse for work that is not also story-true. RL doesn’t have stories that open and close neatly – which is why we crave stories, Lisa Cron of Wired for Story tells us.

IS IT A GOOD IDEA TO LISTEN TO YOUR BRAIN?

It DID derail forward progress a bit, while I suss out the implications and the necessary connections, and carve it some space, and make SURE it is justified.

Yes, I think it WILL do.

Brains, even brain-fogged ones, can surprise you when you’re not looking.

Have you been strong-armed by your own ideas lately?

Why I cannot read your writing

ask writer for feedbackTHE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM: USABLE FEEDBACK

A person who is becoming an online friend has asked me to do the impossible: she sent me a sample of her unfinished work, and asked for me to comment on it.

Worse than that, she has said nice things about my own published work.

She has no idea what she’s done.

I have been agonizing for two days over this simple request.

Why? Because there is no way to fulfill it OR turn it down.

If I didn’t value her friendship, I would merely have said, “No. Sorry. I don’t read other writer’s unpublished work unless we are in a writer’s group.” And let it go at that.

Instead, I’m going to send her back an email that says, ‘Please read THIS blog post about Why I Cannot Read Your Writing.’

With the bunch of links I have gathered (yes, I’m trying to pawn this off on the professionals), and a separate list for those which use bad language.

And the additional information about me:

  1. I have CFS and considerable brain fog: every minute when I’m coherent is fought for with blood.
  2. I am no one. I have published (self-published) one novel.
  3. I have been writing for twenty years, and just last fall got to the point where I had something publishable; it is impossible to condense that experience.
  4. I have NO editing experience beyond working on my own novels.
  5. I wouldn’t know where to start.
  6. I don’t want to. It will take/has taken me out of my safe mental writing place already.
  7. If you really, really need my commentary, my going rate is currently $1200.00 per hour (see 1., above), and we will still have to negotiate about whether I will work for you.
  8. Having to turn down a friend has already cost me those two days of agonizing over how to do this.

Google on your own the phrase, ‘I will not read your writing.’ In no particular order:

Relatively clean links:

dmattricino (Writers Digest)

Peter Clines

Gavin Pollone

Danny Manus

Links with language I don’t usually use (read at your own risk):

Chip Street

Cynthia Haven

Josh Olson

David Gerrold

What to do if you want feedback:

Create a critique group.

Join a writers’ group.

Join a professional association and request a mentor.

Put your work in public – which is automatically asking for feedback. I did this: I posted Pride’s Children, a new polished scene every Tuesday for two years.

Join Wattpad and post your work (they also have groups where you can specifically request feedback).

WHY DOES THIS MATTER? BECAUSE IT DOES

To be absolutely clear, I have not even read the rest of the email which incited this rant: as soon as I figured out what was being requested, I stopped reading the email. I did not read a word of the work sent to me.

And if you think I’m making a huge deal over a tiny request, then remember I take this step with the full expectation that I will lose this friendship which I value AND I will be called nasty names by others who may read this post.

Because… go read the links.

What say you: Am I being paranoid?

In training for a writing marathon

it takes what it takesFOR THE NTH TIME, I TELL MYSELF THIS IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT

The title of this post is meant to be ironic, as writing is a long steady race for me – and many others.

But it isn’t just the revising/editing/polishing of the rough draft that is slow, it is the entire preparation period, now complicated by having to use at least a little time for promotion of the previous book – a process which I assume gets worse as you publish more.

Added to that are the nice conversations (via email) I’ve had with people who’ve read Pride’s Children, some of whom have left lovely reviews.

And wondering about who the people are who’ve left reviews with either ‘Anonymous’ instead of a name, or who are people I’ve never heard of.

The latter kind are more exciting – one out of the first 12 positive reviews came from someone whose name I don’t recognize, who created a profile just to write this review, and vanished. (Thank you, Cris, whoever you are.)

Authors with more experience than I have, expect these. For me, each new oddity gets a tiny bit of attention. I scurry to make a copy of the review for my records when I see them, less Amazon decide for some reason best known to themselves to remove them.

VERBOTEN COMMUNICATION: READERS ARE OFF LIMITS

I’m fascinated by the interdiction on authors communicating with readers OR reviewers – and I can see it could easily become a zoo without the proscription. Half of the commentary I’ve read on Goodreads has to do with people defending or attacking two logical points of view:

  • authors should stay out of reviewer venues such as Goodreads and Amazon – those places are for readers only to express their opinions, except where clearly marked ‘for writers/authors’
  • some authors wanting to say thank you, thinking this will encourage reviewers – and lead to more reviews

I removed ‘desperately’ from the second phrase after I realized you can’t be impartial about these things if you use such adverbs. My opinion is that the first group is safest – if someone writes to me or posts a comment here or on the books’ site, they will get an answer, but I’m staying out of mine fields. Not nearly nimble enough, I’ve discovered, from trying to maintain peace and civil discourse on one of the GR threads.

PROMOTION – AN EFFORT HERE, AN EFFORT THERE

I’m waiting to hear from Ereader News Today whether they will take my money and give me a place on their lists; I’ve decided, after reading lots of things, that my primary category need to be ‘Contemporary Fiction,’ which may be the new ‘mainstream’ for stories set in the real world within recent memory.

There will be a Kindle Countdown Deal to go along with the ENT promotion, if they take me on.

I’m looking into Amazon giveways for ebooks and print books – Chris McMullen’s blog post had lots of details.

And I’m trying to get my brain organized to send a few print copies on walkabout via Book Crossing: you label the book a traveling book, get it a unique ID and register it at the site, and then either release the book into the wild (leave it somewhere, preferably where the cleaning staff won’t dispose of it) or give it a controlled release (ie, hand it to someone). If people keep handing it from person to person, or leaving it where someone can pick it up, AND go to the site to comment that they’ve had it/read it, you can see how far it goes in the world. Sounds a little iffy, but I’ve always wanted to do that.

One other advertising opportunity is to a specific group of people – if that works, I’ll report on it.

PREPARATION IS GOING WELL

I keep saying that – and I keep discovering new little areas of plot and characterization that I really ought to investigate BEFORE getting up to my ears in the writing.

It doesn’t help that I keep having days in which I stare at the wall, so I’m instituting some practices to minimize the effects of leaving the house, namely, much more deliberate resting practices before, after, and the next few days. Oh, and fewer carbs – those kill me.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll notice a lot less angst over the above – I do the best I can, and I don’t worry so much any more (because it never helps). Good days, like today, I try to use my time well. Bad days I try to ignore – but they are scary when my brain refuses to check in for a several days in a row (at which point I get really deliberate with those dratted naps – because, for me, the resting/pacing works).

The hope is that the preparation will mean that I can just write, and not have to stop and do research into obscure points, but I do realize you can’t predict everything you’ll need. It wouldn’t be any fun if you could.

But it doesn’t hurt to take a road map when you travel, does it now? Especially if you know you’re going to need frequent stops along the way.

What does this character do for your story?

character for reasonIN LIFE, PEOPLE HAPPEN; IN STORIES, YOU WRITE THEM IN

I’m just about ready to start revising the excruciatingly rough draft of Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, and my last task is one I thought I wasn’t going to have to do much work on.

Why? Because many of the characters in PURGATORY carry over to NETHERWORLD.

And really, since I am writing a trilogy – split for the convenience of size, not because the stories are separate – you’d think I already had my characters well in hand, and that I would just give them a quick review, add a few, drop a few, and be able to move on.

I’m dropping four characters, and picking up four characters.

It doesn’t seem like much, does it?

And they are minor characters; our main characters, Kary, Andrew, and Bianca will of course be there for the whole, but there are changes, and some of the characters (two of whom come back for Book 3) don’t belong in this volume.

That’s typical, and not at all unusual.

Relationships between characters are half the story

But my plotting software* gives roughly equal space to plot/theme – and characters.

We don’t see the world abstractly. We don’t sit on the front porch and muse about honor.

We compare friends, one of whom acts honorably and responsibly (most of the time), with the one who seems to have an excuse for anything that somehow puts the responsibility for her actions elsewhere.

And from how it hits us, and from what the results of their behavior is, we come to form our own opinion of whether standing up is better than slithering out from under. We understand an abstract concept by its concrete representation in a form our brains are designed to respond to.

Characters are chosen to represent extremes

There isn’t much point in wasting space in a story on two characters who are very similar in their outlooks on life, regardless of how common it is in real life to surround yourself with people you have a lot in common with.

Stories are created from CONFLICT. DRAMA. TENSION.

Stories have word limits. Yes, even long stories like Pride’s Children. If the writer spends too much time belaboring the obvious, the reader starts skipping. Elmore Leonard recommended leaving out the parts people skip.

In Albert Zukerman’s useful book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, he has an example which stuck with me: Ken Follett, in an early draft, had included two policemen in The Man From St. Petersburg. Zuckerman recommended combining them – and making the single remaining character a much more important personage – to kick up the potential for conflict.

When every word matters, the pages turn more quickly, and the point the writer is trying to make sneaks into the reader’s mind more easily.

In real life, there’d be a whole police precinct full of cops, most of them of similar personality type – those are the people who enjoy police work. But for a story, one is MORE than enough. Unless it’s a police procedural, and the point is to push the in-house conflicts of a group of officers, under pressure to solve a crime, fighting over the best methods.

But in a story we have to be parsimonious in the extreme.

And this means not adding a character to a story unless he or she is there for a multitude of purposes.

Relationships are where the story’s points get made

So the interactions between the characters have to carry their weight.

Ever notice how good dialogue skips all the small talk? In life we spend lots of time inquiring about family and friends, work and leisure activities, before we settle down to something as unpleasant as having a friend on the police force look up a license plate number for us because we have a sneaking suspicion a neighbor is responsible for the new dent in our car door. In a book, the reader would go mad with boredom!

Rule #1 of writing: Don’t bore the reader!***

But the dialogue or physical interaction that remains then has to serve as many purposes as possible: information exchange, state of mind, difficulty in responding to a request that is faintly illegal, status of the friendship… plus class and education and income level of the two participants…

And to set these up, the writer should know why she picked these two particular characters, and what exactly the reader should take out of the exchange.

Setting the web of character interactions into place

1 – For continuing characters interacting with continuing characters, the story must change. We already heard what they had to say in Book 1.

2 – For new characters interacting with new characters, the story must explain why these new characters at all, and what has changed/what has remained the same in the story that the new characters reveal.

3 – For interactions between old and new characters, what is new to the story.

Not surprisingly, planning takes time and a fair amount of effort

I found myself extremely reluctant to go into the relationships when I realize how many of them there were. Then I had the above talk with myself.

So the past two weeks I’ve been thinking about characters, what gets space in the story and why, and what can be left out – because somebody has to do it.

I’m almost to the end of it, and it’s been fascinating.

And since I’ve been having the best time planning to use all this.

I almost missed it due to that reluctance (missed doing it as a unit, because I would have certainly had to do it in every scene) to dig into what seemed finished. It wasn’t.

I hope readers like the results.

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*Thanks to ShareAsImage.com for the ability to create graphics

**Dramatica – which allows me to look at a tiny piece of the puzzle at a time (drat that brain fog) and have some hope that the whole will make sense when I’m done.

*** The only rule that matters, so far as I’m concerned.