Monthly Archives: February 2015

Writing: literary fiction or literary quality?

*A shorty.


I am not a literary writer – I believe in good writing regardless of the genre.

I have come to call what I write ‘commercial mainstream fiction.’ With literary quality.

The difference between literary fiction and what I call literary quality is that I am focused on plot and character, not language. The language is a given, but I control very tightly to make sure my tiny excursions into literary quality are 1) consistent with the character who is speaking or thinking them, and 2) incredibly short, and 3) not allowed to stop the flow of the story.

I have no narrator – either as an avatar of me or as another character, so I don’t have a place for a voice distinct from my characters where I might write just for the hell of it.

The fiction I’ve seen that is classified as literary has long paragraphs of flowery language rhapsodizing about the quality of the blue of the sky, and it drives me crazy to read.

My touchstone: skimming

Any time you are reading my stuff, and you find you are skimming because I’m taking flights of fancy, let me know. Out it goes. Story is primary.

It takes long enough to get all the points in I want to write: if I add too much beautiful description, the reader will abandon me.

Does that make more sense? Someone today gave me another word to describe the kind of book I’m trying to write – she called books like The Thorn Birds ‘epic’ – I liked that description. I want to write epic.

Epic contemporary mainstream commercial fiction.

None of this is saying anything in literary fiction is ‘wrong’ – it’s just not me. Some people love literary fiction. But it’s too rich for my blood.


*Shorties are me NOT going on and on with an idea for a post. Get in, keep it brief, get out.

Expand in the comments – it if catches someone’s eye.

Careful proofreading is painful – but doable


I want to:

1) have no typos in my published work, and

2) avoid pain.

These aims are incompatible.

Proofreading your own work: a professional promise

I just proofread an important letter I am writing to a corporation for a subject of public advocacy that is apparently something only I can do (if it fails, you will hear about it).

Two pages.

I’ve been writing it for two years.

A very nice German fellow who discovered something similar and wrote blog posts about it, requiring a major worldwide corporation to mend its ways, was kind enough to help me, and worked with me on the letter. A year ago. Yes, I’m that slow.

Needless to say, with that many iterations between two people, in English but with a German correspondent (whose English is far superior to my almost non-existent German) on one end, the document had a lot of tiny gotchas where things had been moved around, edited, deleted…

I almost rewrote from scratch – but would have lost many of the nuances we’d built in. No go.

Add in brain fog. It took a long while.

The mechanics of proofing, newbie version

So I threw it up, latest version, on the screen.

And I started into it with all the tools of the proofreader:

I changed the font – edited, took a screenshot after making the corrections [s].

I changed the font size [s].

I changed to italics – found out the new font didn’t have italics – lost all my formatting. So I replaced with a different font, and located the things which needed to be bolded for emphasis again [s].

I turned on Speech in Scrivener, and went bonkers trying to turn it off when it brought the first error into my ken. Speech is at the bottom of the edit menu, and has no keyboard shortcut.

I went into the preferences, edited the formatting bar to include the Speech icon.

I selected paragraphs one at a time – then Speech only reads the selected text. Whew. Much better [s].

NOTE: hearing your text read to you, even by the pretty-good speech facility, is excruciatingly painful.

I printed it on paper – oddly enough, that didn’t work for me, no more typos found – or maybe I should have started there.

It hurts – the pain is probably good for your character

I couldn’t face the job. Procrastination, according to Alan Lakein (How to get control of your time and your life) occurs for two reasons: the task is Overwhelming. Or the task is Unpleasant.

This was both. I’m only doing it because it is my duty as a citizen, and said corporation could squash me like a bug merely by waving an attorney or two at me.

I hope they don’t.

The results of proofing are worth the effort.

I did the job. Two letter pages, closely argued. Trying to sound intelligent and committed and with further resources to sic on them if they give me trouble (y’all will help, right?)

The letter is in the outgoing mailbox (snail mail).

My stomach still hurts.

Celebrate! Always celebrate victories, however small!

I celebrated with mozzarella sticks for lunch.

I cannot imagine proofreading a 150K word novel this way.

And that’s next week’s task. Ouch. Even with lots of promised help (thanks, Lily).

Proofing tips that have worked for you but are not on the regular lists? Favorite tips for proofreading? Thanks!

Thanks to for the quote software with the pretty text and pictures.

Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 20, Scene 1

This week’s post begins the last chapter of Book 1, Chapter 20 (1.20.1).

We have water dripping through the upstairs pipes – some of them froze, but we got them thawed – and running water doesn’t freeze as quickly. Since when is New Jersey getting weather in teens, single digits – and below?

I’ve left the house twice in two weeks. Cold outside, writing within. The husband and the new snowblower have been taking care of the show with aplomb – and without me. I love it.

Please feel welcome to comment. It really helps.

The epigraphs are not completely finished, but I’m not exactly sure what I want.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN Table of Contents

~ ~ ~

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 20, Scene 1  [Kary]

Thanks to Quozio for the quote software.

Copyright by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt 2013-2015.

Early morning fear: write through process


I fear, every morning, that today will be the day when the brain DOESN’T clear.

There are days like that, but I most fear the day when IT stops happening forever.

With an illness like CFS (or whatever the heck they’re calling it this week, other than CURED), you never know what the progression will be, whether when you come back – if you come back – it will be on a lower level of functionality, enough, maybe for brushing your own hair, but not enough for intellectual work.

And, trust me, writing is intellectual WORK. What goes on the page is the product of research, reading, studying craft, and creative thinking. I don’t seem to have the angst much any more (except to worry that I’m producing melodramatic trivia), and I know that the only way is through writing the next piece, IF there is a way through.

Trust the writing process

I do the things I do every day: I take my few meds that sometimes work, I get the can of caffeine dripping into the veins, I sit in the chair (butt-in-chair has its own acronym all writers know: BIC), I turn the computer on.

I am ready, but is the brain ready?

The brain fog is thick, murky, viscous.

I wait agonizing minutes. An hour. Another half hour.

I play games of Sudoku, gauging my mental speed. Nope, not there yet.

I can’t make decisions. How then could I possibly write?

Finally, something clicks. The magic number is 7. If the hard Sudoku is done in less than 7 minutes, the brain is ON! I feel the click. I don’t really have to spend 7 more minutes to test it – I can feel the synapses firing faster AS I do the puzzle, locating the numbers and the patterns and filling in the boxes, seeing connections, REMEMBERING where that 4 will go.


That is what I’m waiting for: the human capacity to make a decision. To pick one word and not another. To see a pattern and sequence in the story I’m trying to tell: this goes first, that goes later, and this is how she would say it.

The fear is allayed for another day. Maybe. This is just the BEGINNING of writing, that feeling that I can.

I still have to DO it. The most important decision, the first one, is to block the internet.

Am I procrastinating?

No. I’m sitting here. I want to write. I know what comes next.

Why can’t I do it sooner? I can – but not on the day when the actual writing happens, the assembly, the effort to launch.

Because my brain insists that, if it no longer works, it wants to spend the rest of its life stroking itself, looking for SOMETHING online to make it feel better. It doesn’t want to do yoga and stretch and breathe or anything useful (that would be against BIC). It is petulant, wants brain junk food. I won’t let it have sugar, so it wants the next best thing: endless surfing.

See now, brain. We are capturing reality, creating out of nothing, observing our self. Surely it is good enough?

Now can I go write?

Finally something happens. It is actually on again. I only required patience. And sitting here.

I block the internet. I locate the right files. I try.

End of day

It is night, and I’m posting this.

One more day of beating down the fear – the writing came mid-morning, and the scene I’ve been agonizing over for days finally cracked the shell and emerged. It showed me its path – a different one from every other scene before it. Again, as seems to happen as I get near the end, I will ask my readers, “Is it too much?”

They have been kind.

Me, I don’t know – once the pieces are assembled like molecules in beakers on a bench in a chemistry lab, the result seems to determine itself by some rules I don’t even know I’ve invoked.

All I did was assemble, mix, and add fire.

I now have a fine hard-boiled egg.

Can you feel your brain turn on in the morning?

Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 19, Scene 4

This week’s post finishes Chapter 19 (1.19.4).

Writing is hard, close to the end, because there are so many things to not forget, but at least I cannot be accused of wasting time cleaning house! Apparently, some writers find the necessity of cleaning the whole house from top to bottom makes it impossible to finish manuscripts.

More snow tonight; not as much as Boston is getting, but I can’t remember when I left the house last. Now that DH has the snowblower, he doesn’t need me to help, and it’s done in a quarter of the time it used to take the two of us. Or less. Yay, industrial revolution.

Same request as last week: please let me know if this scene is too much.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN Table of Contents

~ ~ ~

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 19, Scene 4  [Andrew]

Thanks to Quozio for the quote software.

Copyright by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt 2013-2015.

Another new name for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


CFIDS, CFS, ME – all names for the same thing they can’t figure out. Changing the name is like when the school districts keep changing the annual test they measure performance by: there is no way of keeping score, and all kinds of deficiencies get swept under the rug, because one year cannot be compared to another. They like it that way. It keeps them from having to be accountable. Yuppie flu. Chronic Mono. XXXXX

They are now proposing SEID: Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease. Try remembering that.


Now maybe someone could please look at WHY we can’t tolerate much exertion? What do we lack that normal people have, or have that they don’t? What is it that interferes with the body’s normal energy production mechanisms, or possibly the debris of such mechanisms which accumulates?

I take a half-hour nap within every 3-hour period. I call it ‘mental dialysis’ because if I’m quiet, and in the dark, and horizontal, something clears out of my brain better while resting. I use megadoses of B1 because it seems to replace something needed for an energy pathway in cells that can’t process uptake of B1*. It’s taken me 25 years to find even this little bit which allows me to function a little bit. And write a bit.


The medical profession just keep changing names. No accountability. NO cure.

No wonder I have to write a novel about it. The ‘real’ people do nothing.

I pronounce it ‘frustration.’

Excuse me – it’s my nap time.

Please add your opinion.


*B1: type into search box for more anecdotal information from my own experiments. And I may be all wet.

Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 19, Scene 3

This week’s post continues Chapter 19 (1.19.3).

Coughing even less – but not yet gone. 40 days. Wow.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m sabotaging myself! But we continue, and the hard parts are coming nicely, and another chunk finally got written this morning.

I have found out something odd: that when something is very close to you, the fiction and the reality overlap in a  disconcerting way. I guess I should have expected it, and I did, but not in today’s writing piece, in this physical way.

NJ is again NOT covered in snow – but we were very icy, and had to chop ice off the windshield to see out. Going out is dicey and slippery. The thin layer of black ice is treacherous, and the driveway apron seemed a lot farther down to the street than it should be.

One very large personal knot has started resolving, and that always helps – some things in life ARE more important than writing, at least in crisis mode. And I can do one or the other, but rarely both.

Please let me know if this scene is too much.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN Table of Contents

~ ~ ~

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 19, Scene 3  [Kary]

Thanks to Quozio for the quote software.

Copyright by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt 2013-2015.

I write to hear myself think


I will be looking for someone to study my damaged brain.

Brain research

Brain researchers get opportunities to study how the brain works, mostly by accident. In a civilized country, we don’t destroy part of a human’s brain to see 1) if said human can survive without the damaged part, and 2) what effect having a particular part missing has on thought processes and the ability to function in our increasingly complex world.

So researchers have to depend on those poor souls who have a part of their brain destroyed by disease or accident – and who are willing to let said researchers poke around and submit them to endless testing. They have studied people who have no short-term memory, or people who have lost their sense of smell, or people who cannot recognize themselves in a mirror.

Brain research subject here

Other people take notes when they write, before they write, after they write. I take a LOT of notes.

Why do I think I might be useful to researchers? Because I seem to think outside my head, and store endless notes before, during, and after the process of writing fiction.

My average seems to be somewhere around 10 to 20 external words per word of finished fiction.

That’s a lot.

How much verbiage are we talking about here?

When I stopped to think about it, it means that for 10,000 words – a typical chapter – of Pride’s Children, I have written 100,000 to 200,000 extra words. When I finish Book 1, at around 150K words, I will have, stored in files, on the order of 1.5-3.0M words. And when I finish the whole story, at 400-500K words, there will be 4 to 10 MILLION words in these files.

Those are my ‘learning to write’ words, representing the more than 10,000 hours I have spent on this project, and what will be my first published work.

I keep track of everything in writing – personal and story – as it occurs to me. This clears it out of my brain so I can think of the next bit. So the files are closely reasoned bits of why a character would or would not do something – mixed in with bits of how I slept last night and why my brain refuses to kick on this morning.

Increasing writing speed – NOT

You’d think I’d get better at it, wouldn’t you? That I could figure out how to shorten the process of turning ideas and outlines and spreadsheets into a story.

Instead, what seems to have happened is that I have gotten very fast at producing those 10-20 words. I let the imagination run free – on the computer – getting it all out where I can’t lose it, because my in-brain storage system is damaged, and I need to use an external hard drive.

What might this mean for researchers studying ME/CFS?

I’m pretty sure all this happens because of the CFS – the brain is actually damaged in some important way, and I have found a way to operate around the damage, so I can write.

Surely this means I might be of use to SOMEONE in the medical research community?

And the best part for all involved? I won’t have to actually let them study me. I can give them my files, my best wishes, and let them go through all that stuff for hints of useful bits. There should be some grad student somewhere who can figure out how to handle the deluge without getting wet.

It’s already digitized, guys! Except for the twenty or so packed notebooks, and reams of early drafts printed out, it is in a digital form which someone could invent a bot to read, AND I am a tidy person: when I learned Scrivener (where all this stuff is stored in projects), I realized that the most important thing I could do for posterity was to date-stamp every entry.

And most of the files are in strict chronological order.

I can’t see how much more useful I could be to medical science than if I went out and purposely put a hole in my brain.

Let me know.

How about you? Are you a useful subject for brain study?

What am I surfing for tonight, Internet?

Insomnia keeps me up, or  wakes me up after an hour or two. I ask myself what I am looking for as I go voraciously reading wherever I can.

There is no capacity for actually doing something useful right now. Trust me.


Someone to talk to.

Someone whose blog has interesting things on it – that I haven’t read yet.

Readers on WordPress or Wattpad who have read my stories and leave a comment, especially one that says how well I write and how much they love my characters.

There ARE a few others, but fewer than 10% are even partially negative.

But there aren’t enough to keep me in nightly happiness.

Something to read that I absolutely have to read right now, or the world will come to and end.

Something that will coax me toward writing or work during the day, sleep at night.

Reader love.

Intelligent co-stroking.

A place to leave intelligent comments that hasn’t barred me.

Funny stuff.

I have no idea.

I’ll know it when I see it.

What are YOU looking for tonight?

Added PRIDE’S CHILDREN – Chapter 19, Scene 2

This week’s post continues Chapter 19 (1.19.2).

The coughing is less – but not yet gone. Still there – much less intensity. It is COLD today in NJ (and don’t laugh at me, those of you who live on the Great Lakes or in Canada or Finland or Minnesota or…). Well below freezing – everything that got rained on is icing up.

Some of the brainpower is returning, but I’m still losing most of the afternoon, and all the evening, but I don’t care because I’m writing in the mornings.

NJ is NOT covered in snow – the last forecast was a total dud, at least in our neighborhood (we’re at the notch in NJ’s left side, and the rain/ice/snow line moves around a LOT).

Once I got into Chapter 20, the last chapter, I found that I could breathe again, which is good – if nothing else happens, I can probably keep posting a scene a week until I write ‘To be continued’ and take a bit of a breather to get this properly finished and out on Amazon. Wheee!

Never fear – I know what happens next.

I think. OTOH…

Just kidding. The advantage of being an extreme plotter/Dramatica plotter is that I don’t know exactly how we’re going, but I do know exactly where. And I can relax and enjoy/sweat the writing. It halves the problems. Sort of. I still wrestle with the terminology, and the other plotting pieces, and all of the writing parts EVERY SCENE. Which is as it should be – that’s my job.

Thanks for reading along, those of you who have been. And, it won’t be long, those of you who have wanted to wait until you were sure this newbie writer was actually going to finish Book 1. Unfortunately, if you’re waiting for the whole thing, well, I’m faster now, but it’s going to be a while. But I STILL know where we’re going (hope that isn’t in the category of ‘famous last words’).

I haven’t been able to write much of anything part of the time recently, so I’m delighted to announce that this post came out of the fingertips with relative ease. Phew! Was wondering if I’d lost it.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN Table of Contents

~ ~ ~

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 19, Scene 2  [Andrew]

Thanks to Quozio for the quote software.

Copyright by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt 2013-2015.