Category Archives: Brain training

A place to lump all those efforts to create new neural pathways to replace the ones that die; serious efforts to stave off the dementia which runs through my maternal ancestrecesses who lived long lives; stuff that makes my brain hurt, and thus must be good for it.

Thanks to those who go beyond

Who will tell you what to read?

WHAT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF YOU CAN’T EVER READ

Seems such an obvious statement, but being invisible is a big problem for authors – getting the title of your book out there is a constant pressure, and you become very fond of those who make the effort on your blog, their blog, a writing site, a reading site, or any place where readers who would like YOUR books congregate.

And then something has to persuade them to read enough words to get to a ‘Call to Action,’ which can be as simple as a recommendation followed by a link.

The problem of recommendations

If the subject of what you’re reading comes up naturally, I don’t find it too difficult to ask a few questions about what someone new to me likes to read.

I rattle off a couple of favorites of mine – say Jane Eyre and the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries and maybe Dune – and watch to see if the listener’s reaction is fight or flight.

No one likes pushy authors, those who insist their books are ‘for everyone.’ Because it’s not a very believable statement in general, though people who are glad they read Jane Eyre have the most flexible mindset (which is why it gets so much attention). The enjoyment, or even that the story was self-chosen, are the keys – such a reader probably plowed (or ploughed) through similar long-lasting books.

I tried reading A Confederacy of Dunces – an award winner with a good author story (John Kennedy Toole committed suicide when he couldn’t find a publisher, his mother persuaded a legendary literary agent to champion the book, and it won the Pulitzer Prize), but had to force myself to finish Chapter 1. Because it may be brilliant, but it made my gorge rise and choke me. ‘Icky’ is the best I can remember about that long-ago attempt I have no desire to repeat. I don’t get very far into Lolita, either, for similar reasons. Or The Catcher in the Rye.

I can’t imagine their authors spending time with those characters, however good the writing may be.

So I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and am glad I don’t have to assign either book to, say, a class of high school juniors (assuming teachers still get to make those choices), and then have to talk about it in class.

It’s personal for the author

And books can become a personal crusade favorite for readers who then recommend, gift, or lend something they loved.

So, if you LIKED a book, take a moment and do SOMETHING to encourage the author to keep it up:

  • Rate the book
  • Review and rate it
  • Blog about it
  • Recommend it to a friend
  • Leave nice words on the author’s websites
  • Buy an extra copy to lend
  • Send a copy to a friend or family member
  • Use as gifts
  • Ask your library to order the book(s)
  • Write a guide
  • Mention your favorite parts
  • Tell people you can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy
  • Hire a band to parade in DC in costume
  • Anything you would like if YOU had written the book.
  • Be your most creative.
  • Give a copy to any medical personnel who have no empathy for diseases like ME/CFS – this will allow them to live the life of one – without actually having to get it, or Long Covid, or Post-polio Syndrome, or Lyme disease – or any one of a bunch of post-viral syndromes and similar misunderstood ‘invisible’ diseases.

Crusade for indie books in principle by doing something a little beyond your normal response – the author will be delighted.

It’s not the money (though adequate royalties of around $6 per any version I have are about three times larger than many traditional authors make per book) – I crave the readers. Thanks!

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Don’t forget – the Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD ebook is IN KU, and

The NETHERWORLD ebook goes on sale (Kindle Countdown Deal) for a week starting October 19 – lowest price you will find it.

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CASCADE is Mark and Steffi and Chapman sticks

There’s a water fall in those hills, somewhere.

A BLOGGER’S OBLIGATIONS: SHARING FINDS

When we find something that blows us away, that touches us somewhere in the deep recesses of our hearts – sometimes for an odd reason – in this case because something about Mark reminded me of our middle son, so that when they appeared in my FaceBook feed, with an instrument (the Chapman stick) I’d never heard about, I was intrigued enough to listen: we need to share.

They travel – and busk.

There are, according to Mark’s website, about 8000 Chapman sticks in the world.

It’s like saying ‘there are about 8000 pianos in the world.’ Not a very big number. Not surprising I’d never heard of them (the Chapman sticks) or seen them played.

Their music is unique. There are links on his site to the inventor and pictures, if you care to follow.

The music is the important part

The first video I saw, on FB, was them playing ‘Hallelujah cover on two Chapman Sticks – performed by Cascade,‘ and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is one of my favorite songs. Their instrumental cover is simply beautiful.

Because of my ME/CFS, I have a very hard time listening to music, instrumental or otherwise, and have a horrible tendency to get earworms from it, and to not be able to get it out of my head for literally weeks (I think it’s one of the many processing problems from the damage the disease does to the brain).

So I don’t listen much any more – but Cascade’s versions don’t kick that pile of dust up. I just went through making up a weeks’ pills, listened to 3-4 of their pieces, and none of them wrangled my brain to the ground, so I was immediately prejudiced in their favor, because I LOVE music, and miss it greatly.

So here are a few links for the like-minded

Let me know what you think:

Lost in Time, filmed at Lake Constance in Germany.

The Way Home, new from July 2022.

Floating away, street performance in Molde, Norway.

May you find something you love.

They have the usual CDs and digital downloads – I’ll explore them in the future and definitely get some of their music.

Bon appetit!

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NETHERWORLD is a few tiny steps from uploaded to Amazon – but Mark and Steffi were a beautiful interruption, and I needed to find something like Cascade.

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Font lessons learned the hard way

A LOT CAN CHANGE IN SEVEN YEARS

In 2015, I was publishing a book for the first time, after spending a gazillion years writing the first book in my Pride’s Children mainstream trilogy, PURGATORY.

Newbies have a lot to learn, and it is an intense experience if you do it yourself, and you’re pretty sure there’s no way you will forget the steps.

But you have to allow for change – from the outside world – and it won’t take you or your needs into account.

I forgot two major things: software changes and computer crashes.

Software changes negate some changes you make to your copy

I was barely surviving, even back in 2015 when I spent a summer learning graphics and covers and formatting, and I thought that, between my notes and my blog posts, I was saving enough information to do it again with the second book in the trilogy (eventually named NETHERWORLD).

I didn’t even think – no spare brain cells – that the process would be different in a few years, and that it would take me seven to write the next book. Seven is a big number of years in computers.

Because of several computer crashes during those years, and a coast-to-coast move from New Jersey to California, I had to rely on backups for some of my major applications, and sometimes those backups came from outside my own storage systems.

When you download such a backup, you get a pristine copy, ONE THAT DOESN’T HAVE YOUR MODIFICATIONS.

And the major mod that bit me was that on several of my indispensable applications, including Word, Scrivener, and Pixelmator, I had installed fonts I used for the interior and the exterior of the book – duly licensed and paid for – because I liked them.

Find your fonts: on your computer – or download them again

Because I included a Design Notes page at the end of the printed copies of PURGATORY, I had a list of all the fonts I used, their licensing information, and where I’d downloaded them from; plus where I’d licensed them from, with a copy of the invoice and registration information.

Not easily accessible – I didn’t think they would disappear, so I was cavalier about storing them properly – but (and here I credit Apple for saving my bacon several times by making a back of my data at the time of the crashes) they were there on my computer backups, and I eventually located all my information.

Font information is now stored in a MUCH clearer fashion, in a folder on my Desktop labeled 2022 PC Storage/2022 PC FONTS (incl PC1 fonts), and backed up on my computer and in the iCloud, so I won’t have to do this again.

[NOTE: this is where I’m trying to save other users, especially self-published authors (SPAs), time and effort – do this from the beginning, and add all new fonts to this storage system, and don’t be like Alicia.]

Fonts I use for covers or exteriors for Pride’s Children:

  • Alido (monospaced, from SummitSoft, licensed in the Big Graphics Bundle)
  • New Yorker (a very good imitation of the expensive official one, free from Allen R. Walden, to be credited)
  • Goudy Serial (from SoftMakerSoftwareGmbH, licensed) in 6 weights
  • Sorts Mill Goudy (free from Barry Schwarz, credit)
  • Cambria (pre-installed, licensed for all uses with MS Office)
  • Book Antiqua (monospaced, pre-installed, licensed for all uses with MS Office)

Saving – and printing out and saving in physical form – the licensing information is a good idea; fonts are someone’s Intellectual Property, and you don’t want problems with a published book because you don’t have the required information handy to prove you licensed what you use – SPAs are a small business, and it helps to behave like one.

Install the fonts on your system

Before you do anything with additional fonts, they have to be installed on your computer in a form you can then add to your software.

For the Macs, this means installing them into the app Font Book, which couldn’t be simpler (assuming the font is one of the approved font types – which I found listed at Apple Support).

The extra fonts I chose for PURGATORY were all .otf or .ttf, which made it vastly simpler for me: double click on the font, Font Book opens automatically, click Install.

Book Antiqua and Cambria were IN the Font Book already, which makes me think that installing Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac also installed the Office fonts properly. Thanks, Microsoft!

Transfer the fonts to your software – if necessary

On the Mac I don’t have to do this! All the fonts in the Font Book that are not grayed out were now available when I opened Pixelmator!

And now I’m back where I was, font-wise, before the computer crashes and the move, and know a lot more than I did then.

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It’s that time: typo hunting time

THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD

In the publishing of the next book, every self-published author has to face the fact that typos exist, are blamed on the author (who has ultimate responsibility), and are as hard to eliminate completely as cockroaches.

What is a practical limit for the number of typos?

A little checking provides a couple of rough guidelines:

  1. A typo per thousand words is too many.
  2. Three typos in ten thousand words is proofing to a professional standard.

That standard means that, in a novel of 187,000 words, one could discover 56 typos – a huge number – and still be within professional quality. But it’s a twenty-chapter book, and that is only 2-3 typos per chapter, which doesn’t sound quite so bad.

The kind of errors matters

Using the wrong word isn’t a typo – it’s a mistake. It often comes from not knowing a word well enough, and not looking up the correct usage if you’re not certain.

There are a number of these anthills to die on, and experienced writers will know the difference between may and might, principal and principle, and verb affect/effect and noun affect/effect.

No one but beginners should have problems with its and it’s, or their/they’re/there. A professional writer needs to be certain about the basics, and have a cheat sheet for the ones which cause them trouble personally.

And it never hurts to check again, reinforcing what you know, challenging what you think you know. I am getting very humble in that department, as my damaged brain keeps throwing me the almost right word, I find it slightly odd – and have the sense to check. The bigger your vocabulary, the more chances for this to trip you up.

Leaving out a short word is a typo – a good friend just caught me leaving out ‘to’ from the infinitive ‘to commit’ – thank you!

The little shorties which are the wrong word, but are an actual word, are one of my peccadilloes: it, if, is, in – it is so easy to type the wrong consonant!

Transposing a couple of letters or leaving off a final letter – happen frequently to all typists, and can be very hard to catch. Sometimes the best way is to have the robot voice of your computer or program read you your own deathless prose – and make you giggle. My current typo-in-hiding is leaving the final ‘r’ off ‘your,’ which sounds funny when read back to me – YMMV.

Paying for professional proofing

does not guarantee perfection, unfortunately. It may be worth it but I think it doesn’t teach you anything. You’ll still make mistakes and typos, and have to figure out how to make the corrections stick in your writer’s mind, if they’re the kind you can learn from such as using a word incorrectly.

If you accept the corrections made by a pro too quickly, you may not move the problems into long-term memory properly – and so will continue to make that kind of flub. It’s worth taking some time to ask yourself why they happened, and whether you can make a permanent self-fix.

And you’re still the one with your name on the book.

So wish me well on what is the final proofing:

Sending out ARCs I think are perfect, and getting back the little niggly (and wonderfully welcome), “I liked it – but on page #n, you have a typo…”

Embarrassing – but I am grateful for every catch.

And vow to learn from them.

Can’t be perfect – but I can always become better.

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Having trouble writing a promised review?

SAY THANK YOU! TO A FAVORITE AUTHOR

And they cost the reader nothing but a few minutes.

If you’ve never done it before, or it’s been a while, that first one seems, uh, hard.

Often the best time to write one is when you have just finished a book, and can’t wait to share.

But many people are shy, tell themselves they’ll write one later, and never end up doing it.

So: to make it easier, save either the link to this post, or to Rosie’s, and be ready the next time you’re bursting to say something, to extend your time in the book’s universe just a little bit longer.

Rosie Amber’s Review Templates

Rosie Amber has a lovely set of templates that will get you going on your review. Fill in whichever of the prompts you like (not necessary to write more than about twenty words), and voilà, review!

Want to write something longer? Keep typing and wax eloquent. Tell other potential readers why you like a book.

Create in your wordprocessor of choice and copy/paste, OR write directly into Amazon’s prompts for a review. The templates are SO much more encouraging and helpful than facing a blank page or review form. Thanks, Rosie!

While at Rosie‘s, check around – there are so many wonderful reviews. There’s an easy sign-up to have the blog come to your inbox.

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Can you tell I’m getting ready to ask you to read and review a book?

Authors positively LOVE reviews.

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Fixing what’s not working on novel

HOW LONG DO YOU STICK IT OUT?

Over at C h a z z W r i t e s, Chazz asks: Are you ready to fix what’s not working?

He kindly provided a long list of questions, and after I got started, I realized I should post this here, and just leave the first two answers as a teaser on his blog, which you should visit and follow.

He starts his post with:

Publishing gurus are full of ideas for you. To optimize your sales, they might suggest new covers. They will tell you that your only barrier to startling success is a simple (yet costly) tweak to your book description.

ChazzWrites – 19 March 2022

He asks you:

How do we adapt? Consider these questions:

Here is my list of answers – a good set to answer for yourself in writing. I’ve edited or changed his questions a bit in places to suit me better – you should read his.

What is success to me?

People reading and reviewing my mainstream trilogy – I am pretty sure it will take off in a big way some day, and these people keep me writing.

What works for you?

Doing it exactly my way, designed for a damaged brain and no energy – because it works.

What doesn’t?

Everyone else’s suggestions – I can’t follow them, and when I make the big effort, they don’t work for me.

Have you tested other options?

Yes, though not extensively – I’m VERY slow, and this takes time away from writing.

Have you played with the variables?

Not a lot – by definition, half of A/B testing is going to be wrong!

Would you drop what isn’t working?

In principle, yes – but I have to somehow decide people who don’t know me and my work know what they’re talking about. So far, not convinced.

Are you doing more of what works for you?

I am – and I do as soon as I identify something that works, I do more of it. When I have time and energy, the kicker.

What haven’t you succeeded at trying that might work?

Going viral (not something you can just ‘try.’) Getting on Oprah or equivalent. Practically, attracting a BIG influencer who goes to bat for me.

Have you tried that?

Have asked maybe ten – they all have shied away or answered in generalities or haven’t answered at all. Doing things their way works for them; altering, looking at the outliers, not so much.

Before changing, have you completed other projects?

Yes. I can only work on one thing at a times – very little ability to do elsewise.

Have you analyzed pros and cons of a strategy such as changing genres?

Not until I finish the mainstream trilogy (but I managed to tuck some historical fiction AND some science fiction into it).

What would your costs be?

Funny: They go from me, my time, and my energy, immediately to a very expensive version of let other people do it. I could probably afford it, if I were convinced it would make a permanent difference – but I don’t believe that, because the limitation is still me.

What would the cost/benefit of getting paid helpers be?

I would have to sell a LOT more books to make them pay for themselves, and, since I will never be able to create much of a backlist, there won’t be much help from other work, so it would depend on a single huge campaign for the trilogy.

How much money do you need to live?

Fortunately, I’m retired, settled into a retirement community, and okay.

How much MORE do you need for WANTS?

Lucky that way – none.

Do you have the helpers to effect this change?

Not yet, though I’ve approached several possibilities, and listened carefully to their answers.

Would this be an investment, or money down the drain?

It’s my life, and my only chance of a legacy, since I became chronically ill.

Is a helper worth the time or mental toll it will require?

Haven’t found one yet that is.

What’s keeping you from trying?

Lack of energy.

What’s the worst that could happen?

No increased sales, and the loss of a lot of money which should have gone to charities and the kids.

What’s the best that could happen?

Breakout – and a fame which wouldn’t make much difference to a very isolated disabled life, but would be fun (instead of always being odd woman out).

Is the new way of working a passion, an excuse, or an escape?

Passion, of course. Nothing else is worth the kind of effort necessary.

What makes your new approach significantly different from old projects that failed?

I’m doing it myself; the failed one approached traditional publishing and didn’t get a brass ring.

Are you happy or excited to make this new commitment?

Haven’t had a credible proposition yet; there’s one possibility in the works – a PR company. I’m waiting to hear, because they will have to do all the changing – I don’t have the capacity to.

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And there you have my answers.

Thanks to Chazz!

Go visit, read his actual questions, answer them for yourself.

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Being present in the writing moment

Imaginary Circumstances

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

I need a win.

After much reflection, some of it in writing, other of it in the middle of the night, I have realized that the win, to be mine, has to come from me.

A real win is one you create yourself, the hard way, with blood, sweat, and tears. Since you EARNED it, you OWN it.

Since you created it, it can’t be taken from you (do remember your backups off site, though!).

Someone buying Pride’s Children PURGATORY – in paperback! – is a win, as is someone purchasing the ebook, or taking it out at Kindle Unlimited, especially when I haven’t done any marketing in ages. But it’s not something I have control over.

I had a recent win against Covid

As soon as the CDC said immunocompromised people would be on the short list for the early boosters, I asked my doctor AND my facility about it – to no avail. They said, “When we get it, we’ll let you know.”

But I started seeing other people with my same illnesses posting on FB about having already received the booster shot.

Regardless of how (I wouldn’t lie to get one, but don’t even know if others did, though there have been newspaper reports of lying), the key fact was availability.

So I nagged the doctor’s office, reminded them of my immune status, and they made it available. Then I arranged Medvan transportation, went and got the thing, suffered through the side effects (second day was quite flu-like, and I had more brain fog than I anticipated for the days after that), and, in another week or so, will feel I have done as much as possible to protect myself. And did NOT take that dose from someone getting their first vaccine.

So, win.

I finished a tricky chapter in Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

As I get toward the explosive end of NETHERWORLD, it is getting even more important to get it exactly right, because even less time separates the end of 2 from the beginning of 3 than separated the end of 1 from the beginning of 2, and every story-second counts.

Sending Chapter 35 off to my beta reader was a key step: it is the 3/4 mark in several ways, and I have been forced to make the tiny detailed decisions that make the difference NOW, and not in some writing future – ‘when I get to it.’

It’s getting harder and harder physically and mentally

I acknowledge that, and move on.

Restarting after the brain fog is always tricky, because I have to assume I’m past it before I’m sure I’m past it, and restarting is part of the process of getting past it. What I mean is that it takes a huge amount of psychic energy to restart, sort of like the difference between static and dynamic friction (starting to move a piece of furniture across carpeting is much harder than keeping it going once you start (so don’t stop!)).

Apply that pressure too early, and all it does is extend the downtime.

Wait too long, and situational depression sets in.

And there is always something else that need my limited attention ability – and seems more important just this minute.

So what?

I live with this, write with this, and have been at it for a very long time.

There are rumors on the horizon of research for long-covid that might explain another post-viral syndrome, ME/CFS’s problems, and it is possible that even after 31 years it might be helpful. Rumors – but this one has some interesting science behind it. We’ll see.

But, as the husband reminds me, even if it works it will be years before it is available, and I can’t let any of that time go to waste.

So I face the fact that there’s been a break, and get back to work.

Yesterday I took the first step:

I re-read what I have put together, in these brain-fogged days, by following process and trusting it will work as it has every time before – eventually.

And even though there’s one tiny part in the middle of the scene where a decision has to be made about an order of events, the rest is written.

And the end made me cry (actual written steps in said process: “DIG DEEPER – CRY” and “BECOME THE CHARACTER – WRITE WITH THE EMOTIONS RAW.”)

The character needs it, but I am the one with the whip, forcing change. It hurts.

Extra insight

Being present in the writing – mining my own experience: “HERE AND NOW; BEING PRESENT!”

I may work in imaginary situations, but if they don’t get treated as real, with me there, documenting as it happens, it never converts into something good.

From my Journal: “… is nice – but she needs extraordinary, and open to a degree she won’t be able to demand from him.” It is either there in someone, or it isn’t.

Voltaire said ‘the best is the enemy of the great.’

Many people think perfectionism keeps you from getting something finished and out the door and good enough.

But in writing something unique, it matters. Not that you become a perfectionist, and never get anything done, but that you not let ‘good’ or ‘good enough’ or even ‘good enough for government work’ keep you from achieving your own standards.

Because I hope my readers are the people who have those same standards.

If you are, you will know that about yourself.

THAT’s where the wins come from.

So back to the drawing board, salt mines, design board

While I still can.

Because if it’s meh, it costs me way too much to be worth it.

Chapter 36 is well started, and I am imbuing it with the frustration of writing in the middle of the challenging circumstances that are a pandemic which no one expected would last this long.

And a lot of the pain.

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If you look for it, something will pull you back to the task.

Can you relate?

What do you expect from your writers?

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Finagling past reality for fictional purposes

Will the real bridge AND CITY be insulted?

REALISTIC FICTION STARTS HERE

What it’s like to insert a fictional character into a historical event for the purpose of telling a story.

The basic question is unanswered: how to take over a historical event and change it.

Such as how to write a thriller with someone else as President!

So, it’s fiction, identified exactly as so in the beginning of the books, and mine to do with as I will.

I doubt someone has to get permission from the White House to change the President – or we wouldn’t have President Bartlett and The West Wing.

So I’m worried about nothing.

Except…

The general rule to changing a name has to be avoiding harm

If you are going to say something negative, it might bring a lawsuit if the named person or organization feels it affects their reputation in some way. And even if a court decides they are wrong, and you get an amazing amount of viral publicity out of this (google the Streisand Effect if you don’t remember it), it is going to take a lot of your time, effort, and money to fight such a suit – and there is no guarantee you will win.

Organizations can have in-house lawyers who eat problems like this for lunch. They will bury you easily – nothing personal – and have no mercy.

Please read books on writing and copyright, and know the legal definitions of Libel (Letter – ie, written – mnemonics mine, probably not original) and Slander (Spoken) and ask yourself, as a start, whether YOU would feel libeled or slandered if you were the subject.

If even you are uneasy, it may be easier to change the name that might get offended.

And you might have to change that to something that is significantly different in enough ways that no reasonable person would be offended (unpredictable).

Where’s this coming from?

For the purpose of NETHERWORLD, I sort of have to insult a famous movie or two, and some actors – in a minor way.

The insult consists in taking away an earned award – and awarding it to someone else, another movie.

The problem stems from everyone’s ‘knowledge’ of how Hollywood works, and what the major awards are from which organizations.

In the same way that President Bartlett is less interesting if he is Superintendent Bartlett of an unnamed or fictitious school district, an actor getting a life-changing nomination for, say, an Academy Award is more interesting than if I make up an organization called FCBM and award my character their Best Actor award.

Along with ‘The White House’ you get an amazing amount of the reader’s foreknowledge of how things work there – which saves a lot of words and explanations.

Along with ‘an Oscar’ you get the same kind of response – red carpet, photographers, exotic borrowed clothing for beautiful women… And the whole suspense thing dragged out as long as possible, followed by one winner and a lot of gracious losers who were honored to be nominated. It’s in your head already, and a writer just needs to mention a few points to trigger a full-blown award ceremony in your mind.

Why do I even bother worrying about this kind of stuff?

Well, first because I’m a worrier.

Second, because I want that identification and value from the awards. I agree with the organizations and the individuals that they are worth a great deal in a career.

Third, because the last thing I need in my state of energy and illness and retirement is some organization getting its panties in a twist because I, well, lied.

Fourth, because I hope to be famous and well-read (not synonymous) some day, I want to do it right, and not leave a mess for my heirs.

Fifth, because, as a writer, it’s my job.

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Have you had to face this choice? If so, how did you handle it? Have there been repercussions?

As a reader, have you ever wondered if the author has stepped over the line? Care to share?

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Loving scenes where the villain wins

HOW TO FEEL RIGHT ABOUT LETTING THE VILLAIN WIN

Some lights are seen better in contrast with dark.

NOT necessarily permanently – I don’t write downers or tragedies – but so you have done a good job when writing something that, in the long run, enhances the story.

A hero is a hero ONLY in comparison to the obstacle overcome.

The DIFFERENCE between the hero’s HIGH and the villain’s LOW is the STAKES of your story.

The answer to every objection is: Does it make the story better?

Even in a long book, you have only so much space to use the whole palette of emotions that go with your story. You don’t get to waffle about – you have to use what you have, and make it squeal.

This means that you have to be confident enough to do what the STORY needs, even when it hurts – or at least feels odd – when you get to the place where you have to write that the wrong character is winning.

For a while, you tell yourself.

Not permanently.

So the ‘winning’ characters have something to overcome that is worth writing about.

But plotting it to happen and writing the scene are different

I knew what I was going into when I chose to start writing this novel trilogy. It is in many ways a fairytale for grownups, something that is highly improbable in the real world.

But I figured out a way to make it come out the way I wanted.

I found a way to make the ending POSSIBLE.

And, as you might expect, it required some finagling to make it interesting and not trivial.

It required making ‘highly improbable’ ALMOST ‘impossible.’

And then doing the writing to make it happen.

Believably.

To me. Who am picky about plausibility.

Because the characters need to change

Some of them do.

And change of direction requires the application of force.

Nobody changes unless they have to.

And these characters had no reason to go looking for change, except that I wanted them to.

The bigger the change, the bigger the applied force needs to be

The applied force is the stakes, and I needed to make the stakes big enough to make a couple of very stubborn characters change, so it’s really their fault.

But then I got to the actual writing

And I found I had to make the reasons for change credible because the characters had turned into people I cared about.

So the actual writing of the lowest scenes not just in the middle novel, but in the whole trilogy, was hard.

Even though I knew it was coming and exactly what was going to happen.

I had to admit that there was no way around the difficulties I plotted in in the first place. Duh!

So I went ahead and wrote the first of these scenes, and it was as hard as I imagined it would be, and harder because I write linearly, and couldn’t postpone doing it now.

I am proud to say I survived

The story survived.

Some version of the characters survived.

The villain got to win.

At least for the time being, but mostly because it is necessary.

If you aren’t writing stakes you care about, I can’t see the point of putting in the kind of work this is taking. Because it is very hard to let the villain get away with things, even temporarily, because it is necessary to create that leverage for change.

And I had to give it the very best writing I could create – and make every tiny step in the win justified – because otherwise the villain is a straw villain, easy to overturn.

I hope it works for my readers after it works for me.

Or you guys are really going to hate me.

**********

How do you feel about this kind of story – as a reader?

If you’re a writer, have you ever had to do the same?

I’ve earned some kind of reward.

**********

When to dump a scene completely

With ice cream, you don’t have to ask where it went!

WHEN IT ISN’T AN INTENSE IMMEDIATE NECESSARY EXPERIENCE

It’s a high bar, wanting only scenes in a novel that are strong enough to leave a reader breathless.

Quietly or dramatically, a scene has to have a reason for being in the story, and that reason has to answer the question: Why is this scene PIVOTAL?

Yes. Every single time.

Scenes accomplish many things at once

The structure and skeleton of a scene offer a place to hang many hats: character development, plot, theme(s), setting, language, the ability to hold a reader’s attention, emotions… I could go on for a long time, or merely post some of my checklists for things which must be considered.

A scene has to be packed with meaning, symbolism, omens, backstory, forewarning, consequences, and costs.

It has to move the story from where it was to where it has to be, a stepping-stone across a great river.

Preferably subtly.

But the scene itself has to have a primary reason to be in the book, and it isn’t as a catch basin for a whole bunch of important little things the author thinks the reader needs to know.

I dropped a scene

I’ve done a lot of things between the complete rough draft and what will be the final complete draft that included rearranging material, moving things to a slightly better scene for them, altering the timelines enough to change the order, switching point of view to a different character, tweaking the goal.

I’ve considered, for each scene, how best to tell its part of the story.

I’ve combine a couple of shorter ones, split some long ones.

I’d have to go back over extensive lists, but I don’t think I’ve completely dumped one before.

It feels weird – but I’m happy I made the decision to ‘kill a darling.’

I was having trouble writing 34.5.

Since I have trouble writing every scene, this wasn’t anything new or startling. I have many ways of writing myself out of these problems, some suitable when it’s the writer who has a previously-unknown problem (the Journal gets a lot of these long explorations of why) and others which work to get around my physical limitations.

I have those checklists to allow me to explore MANY features of a scene in small enough chunks that I can focus on one thing at a time – by the time I’ve gone through all of those, I have the gathered material for that scene all in one place. Then I have systems to organize it. Then it gels. Then I write it.

I was even in a good mood and had had enough sleep.

The material wasn’t compelling as a whole.

There were specific bits that need to be in the book. There were some really nice bits. And there were all those answered questions and placeholder text bits, including some really decent dialogue.

Then I realized that writing this particular scene bored me

And that I wouldn’t be looking forward to rereading that scene when I reread the book, and would probably skip it.

Telling myself the Reader needed the information, presented in a nicely dramatized way, with bells, didn’t work.

And then I really, really looked at the nascent scene, and I admitted to myself that there were 2-3 necessary pieces, which is why I thought I should group them in this scene in the first place, but that it wasn’t enough to do a good job of surrounding them with a scene and let the reader absorb them painlessly.

It won’t surprise you that it was a villain scene – and I’ve given her plenty of room to express her opinions, follow her thoughts, listen to her justifications.

So I made the decision to cut a scene

And immediately knew it was the right decision.

I found a home for those necessary bits in the following scenes and an epigraph which wrote itself. There isn’t anything wrong with them.

And the chapter suddenly got livelier.

I dug into the next scene, and found it compelling, and found a way to make it heartbreaking.

We’re back on track.

This scene should be a doozy. As they should all be, if I had my ‘druthers.

I can always go back and put it in; somehow I don’t think it will be necessary. I’ll leave it up to my beta reader to notice.

**********

I don’t think this is because I write one finished scene at a time; I’ll find out.

Does any of this ring a bell?

**********

How NOT to treat disabled patients

Medical personnel providing a service.

JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE HEALTHY AND WE ARE NOT

When did things become BACKWARD???

When did THEIR time become more important than ours?

When did CLIENTS become patients?

When did their needs to be in control become more important than the clients’ rights to timely and adequate and compassionate service?

When did their convenience supersede ours?

When did taking care of disabled clients become a burden to them, an inconvenience to their mission?

When did their control become more important that our PAIN?

When did it become acceptable for them to frighten patients, to threaten them with dire consequences for not obeying instructions to the letter, to TELL them they will end up in the ER with a massive attack of something? (This has now happened twice.)

When did THEY end up with all the cards – and the self-righteous belief that they know best for OTHER people with REAL LIVES?

This is the letter I would LIKE to send to my medical services group – if I dare, once I have carefully weighed the consequences to my future treatment.

Think about that: I have to worry that they might be bothered by something I, the person responsible for paying them, might say. As nicely as I can.

First, though, I would like to say: don’t mess with a writer – they are good at nuance, both reading it and writing it. Not on the spot, of course – that’s for narcissists and sociopaths and politicians and comedians – but afterward, when they’ve had a chance to think.

And to realize what just happened.

And rewrite what you think just happened into the correct narrative that takes the CLIENT into account.

Except rewriting the narrative created by the thoughtless ‘professional’ requires 1) rereading it (I won’t – too negative), and 2) putting in an enormous amount of my own time – knowing it probably won’t work. Or change anything.

THE LETTER TO MEDICAL PERSONNEL AT XXXXX which I may never send.

Because I need some kind of medical care, and all of these are similar in that they think they know it all, and they OVERWHELM you.

My mind keeps nagging about the letter I should write to my medical providers about energy, visits to specialists, and fear-mongering. Which was applied to me, a disabled person, at the end of a too-long-for-a-disabled-person day.


And the tone of the after-visit summary took my breath away – and made no mention of or accommodation for that disability which caused so many of the problems.
Bullying a disabled person is NOT nice.

I will NOT have the procedure unless I decide it is necessary, there are several more worrying symptoms, and they don’t respond immediately to medication.
And do NOT appreciate how I was treated so cavalierly.

I need to write the letter so it appears in my medical record, and I can point to it, but I don’t expect it to have any effect on anyone there.

Do NOT treat disabled people the way you treat normal people – we can’t take it.

And no, it doesn’t NECESSARILY help to bring someone else along. Then I have to deal with THEM, too.

The calculus of what I can take vs. what I need is ongoing: don’t assume, ASK.

And more than asking, could you make a climate where I will think of asking myself, EVEN when exhausted?

Thank you.

CLIENT (person who pays the bills)

The above is not coherent – I’m still going to let it stand, because the incoherence is generated by the system.

I’ve let this one stew for almost a month, and I’m still angry. I was going to just let it drop, leave the unfinished post among the almost 100 draft posts I never finished.

Not naming names – and I’ve decided it isn’t SAFE for me to let them know what I really think, so I’ll keep tweaking the interactions (as in my previous state – which was as bad or worse) instead of taking them head on.

Other options to minimize the problems

One is to do as much as possible via video visits; those are usually on time, one-on-one because the provider isn’t popping in and out or pawning you off on a nurse.

Another – based on my last visit to another city for treatment – is to make sure you have done the paperwork part of a visit SEPARATELY via video BEFORE the in-person appointment. I find it a major problem to have filled all the paperwork before the visit, and to be grilled over every single thing in my medical history again anyway.

I will explain that it is very difficult for me to do BOTH in a single visit – and, by the time I get the service, I am exhausted and frazzled and not being as coherent as I tried to prepare to be.

LEAVE the minute it gets to where I can’t keep going. I keep trying to respect THEIR time, at the cost of trying to continue to talk and even be awake and coherent when things go on too long. Going back is not a great option, but maybe I can finish by video.

Stand up for myself in some small way each time.

Say, “This is not helpful.”

Risk being labeled difficult.

Complain to higher management – with specifics (respectfully – that writer nuance).

Suggestions?

Because the stress of doctor visits has gotten to the point that all I want to do is avoid them.

**********

The necessary odd story pivot scene

WHEN YOU DIDN’T REALIZE HOW IMPORTANT A SCENE WAS

I write these posts when I get an epiphany (and interestingly enough, it is set right before the real Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, 2006).

I did what I always do, and gathered enormous amount of material related to the scene in progress – and went through my usual process of trying to turn the most important parts of what the Reader needs to know at this point into a coherent scene.

Almost always when I get to this point in my writing process (and I’ve written much about that), the scene almost self-organizes, includes some of the bits of dialogue I’ve developed during the process, and gives me trouble until I get it written.

Then I clean it up, check against my lists, run it through AutoCrit, and am usually happy to move to the next one.

And occasionally I get massively stuck

Which drives me crazy, and then drives me to picking apart what I’ve done, writing in my Fear Journal, and generally making a mess of everything.

Until suddenly the subconscious hits me upside the head with a ten foot Pole (to thoroughly mix metaphors), and I somehow figure out what’s wrong.

And then add it to another list: THINGS I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN.

Or at least expected!

Which are embarrassingly obvious after that point.

Sigh.

Endings and beginnings are fraught

This scene is essentially the last one in this section of the plot. I knew I needed it, structurally, and threw it in, moved some content around, and left it as a stub in my very detailed Scene list in the Dramatica file.

But I did NOT have a rough draft (the very rough draft of everything I have has been proof of my ability to create a story from nothing, and still serves as an anachronistic paper map to the path) for this scene.

Because, in many ways, I was still learning plotting when I finished the first plot (for Dramatica initiates, had my storyform down to 1) and wrote the rough draft to flesh out the ideas. Only Sandy, my long-suffering writing partner at the turn of the century, has seen the rough draft – and I hope she’s forgotten.

The storyform was then revised permanently in the great Reorganization of 2007.

So, I had somehow known SOMETHING WAS NECESSARY HERE,

thrown it into the mix, and moved on to more important things, such as writing PURGATORY.

And of course that’s what landmines are for: to make you sit up and pay attention.

To put this all into something more understandable: my usual process led me to gather enough material for this important transition pivot, but I hadn’t realized it was an important scene.

I thought it was a simple ‘cleanup and move on’ scene.

And of course it did no such thing as self-assemble.

The important ones on whatever scale never do.

Because they’re something new, and you haven’t done it quite that way before, and your subconscious doesn’t know HOW.

So, no template. So, no assembly possible.

And then, in the wondering and thinking and journaling that goes about when I get stuck in these little quagmires, I suddenly realized that we had reached the top of one mountain, the view was spectacular in all directions (see image), and it was going to matter, a lot, exactly how we got down.

For specifics, and so you might recognize it later, we move from the Czech Republic to Ireland. Over the course of a couple bits in several scenes.

And it is a major turning point in not only this chapter, but this book, and the whole trilogy, because the bottom has been hit, and the Reader doesn’t yet know how the characters are going to climb out, because climb out they must.

Apologizing for the contradictory images and the many cliches, I go now to write this scene, somehow, because I have to.

And that’s not bad.

**********

As a question, do you remember your turning points, and how wobbly they felt?

**********

Writing a silk purse from a sow’s ear

I DON’T WRITE CLEAN COPY

For my kind of extreme plotter, you might think everything would be planned down to the last jot and tittle – before writing.

It seems that way for some scenes I’ve written – I know exactly what I’m doing when I go in, and then I do it, polish a bit, and get out – and we’re done.

Because having the content and the outline and the knowledge of where a scene will go can make it easier to see what fits and what doesn’t, as I go.

Unfortunately, they’re the minority of my scenes.

Another set of scenes takes more work because there is a lot to include, and the correct path through all the necessary points can take me a while to organize.

And then there’s 32.2.

The sow’s ear of the title.

Oddly enough, a scene for which I had plenty of content.

But it came out of my head very oddly, as almost a single long piece of dialogue, a phone call no less, with the banter between Kary and her best friend writing itself as I eavesdropped.

Very realistic – I could SEE them talking, SEE the little connections, the friendship, the gentle poking when one person thinks they know better what the other needs, a scene you might overhear at brunch, or in a park, or while watching the children on the swings at the playground…

And it was wrong

Very wrong.

Boring – to me!

And I could see a reader doing the thing writers dread: skimming. Skipping ahead to see where the meat starts again. Not seeing the content because it was in the form of a dialogue between two women.

Just getting to the realization of what was the problem took me days.

Because there was nothing obviously wrong, and I write dialogue all the time, and it wasn’t particularly bad.

Good dialogue doesn’t guarantee great scenes

Almost a thousand words of good, realistic but compressed dialog.

You hate to give that up – and it took quite a bit of practice to be able to do that in the first place, create dialogue that gives the reader necessary knowledge in the form of a story.

I almost did what I never do: let it stand, leave it to the beta reader, move on and come back to it later, live with what I knew was highly imperfect (in my standards) because I had no idea what was going on that produced it.

But I did know:

The brain fog was thick on the ground and I couldn’t see over, through, or around it.

And this is what I produce when I can’t think: ‘almost’ writing.

It depended too much on the reader’s previous knowledge.

There was not enough scene-setting.

And it repeated things the reader already knew – a capital sin if done in any quantity: do NOT give readers an excuse to start skipping!

I bit the bullet, lowered the dose of a medication I thought might be the culprit for the recent fog increase (it was), waited for a couple of days until, thankfully, the head cleared.

Then I took all of the scene except for the initial paragraph, and put it in another file in the Scrivener project, fully prepared to dump the whole thing if necessary.

And I was able to get back to work – because I was darned lucky.

My greatest fear in life is that I will reach one of these points, know something is wrong, and never more be able to do what I’ve been doing to analyze, understand, and, fingers-crossed, improve what I’ve written, from the first gasp to the final zinger.

I’ve had this happen before to a smaller extent – I had to learn to write every kind of scene (and there are more kinds, I’m sure) – and since I’m still writing, have emerged every time.

But brain fog is more insidious than exhaustion, and you can’t just rest it away.

Brain fog scares me

It alters my essential self.

This time I found the cause, and it was something I could change. There are consequences, of course – in this case more physical pain – but I have other alternatives for physical pain, even if I’m trying not to use them (to spare liver and kidneys from having to disassemble those molecules and get rid of them); in the worst case, I can just tough it out, do some of the physical things such as stretches or (in non-pandemic times) immerse myself in the therapy pool’s warm water, wait until it passes if it has a specific cause…

Do not recommend your favorite remedy for brain fog – thanks, but I’ve tried an awful lot of things over the years that didn’t work, and I don’t have the stomach to try more. Assuming you even have one – brain fog is a particularly difficult ‘symptom’ to treat because it is so vague and amorphous and non-specific.

It’s a Catch-22: you need to be able to think to work yourself out of brain fog, and you can’t think until you’ve worked yourself out of brain fog.

Sometimes the passage of time helps.

Sometimes the disappearance of a physical illness, or its successful treatment or management, helps.

Sometimes – the scary part – you’ve lost that part of yourself and it isn’t coming back.

And sometimes you figure it out.

Once that cleared

I took a hard look at what I had been ‘creating,’ that conversation that repeated things unnecessarily.

And I got to work.

I went back to process: I’ve detailed my Left Brain righT method before; I still use it, tweaked a bit but usually to add a detail, not change something already there, seven-and-a-half years later.

Step by step I followed my own prompts for considering, choosing, refining – including much smaller amounts of that big chunk of realistic dialogue – listening to the bits as I locked them in (to make sure the language flows), defining the structure, doing the work I call writing fiction, and little by little, 32.2 emerged from the shadows of a disaster.

It started doing what it was supposed to do, and I got less scared.

Until the next time.

**********

Tagline, logline, pitch are the hardest writing ever

A PLOTTER SHIFTS WORD ONE TO CHANGE WORD LAST

One of the hardest tasks a novelist faces is answering the question:

“What is your book about?”

And every writer will face that over and over and over.

I’ve saved this post from Writers in the Storm since 2013.

When the novel you’re trying to describe is going to be as long as Gone With the Wind, and tops out over the course of a trilogy at around a half-million words, reducing ‘about’ to a few words is a feat that brings most writers to their knees.

The lucky ones, traditionally published, probably don’t have to/get to make these decisions (for which they trade complete control of their work and pitiful royalties forever) – because their publisher makes the decisions for them (usually without much input from the writer), and then, again for the lucky ones, uses the results to market the book.

I’ve known since the beginning

Which is why I spent a long time learning exactly how to achieve the ending I wanted for Pride’s Children: and ran scenarios from beginning to end over and over until the beginning made the ending, in my mind, inevitable – and I was ready to write the definitive version.

The process is a time loop for plotters like me, and doesn’t determine the words readers will ultimately get – only the story that I want to leave in their minds, the life lived, the consequences of the choices, the necessary paths.

As in a play, what the theater-goers see as spontaneous and happening before their very eyes needs to be so completely memorized and rehearsed that the actors never say a word out ot of character.

Other people write differently; this is how I do it.

What I’m trying to say here is that I have many versions of tagline, logline, and pitch, created and struggled with over the years since 2000, but I’ve never comfortably answered the question of ‘about’ when asked, and stutter like an unprepared schoolgirl when it comes up.

But I hadn’t dared. Which seems silly.

Those who forget the past (or ignore it) are condemned to repeat it

All that happens is you have to keep doing it, over and over, like Groundhog Day or Russian Doll, because the question doesn’t go away.

Can’t go away – as long as there are readers.

Why now, halfway through NETHERWORLD?

Because I am exhausted from fighting this particular battle, and stuck in the deep chasm of having to write what I planned to write way back then.

Because challenges not faced come back to haunt you.

And because I think I got it.

Finally.

Sidetrack for a minute into the writer’s greatest fear: Appearing ridiculous

Also sometimes known as biting off more than you can chew.

And choking on it.

But what I didn’t know in 2000, when what I’m about to post was almost as clear as it is now, except that I wasn’t sure, hadn’t put in the hard work to make sure, that I could come anywhere near to achieving what I was setting out to do.

As you probably know, mere appearance never works.

Failure is fine – there is no shame in attempting to become an astronaut, and not making the cut (I did, and didn’t). But you have to try, and you can’t skip steps. And you can’t wish for proficiency when what you need to do is find a way to learn (ie, the 10,000 hours trope, which is really a lot more hours if that’s what it takes).

Delusions of grandeur, Impostor Syndrome, Fear of Failing

They take their toll.

Why does it matter so much?

Because the world has removed so much of what I can do that what’s left is pitiful.

Because I have this one thing that I value, that keeps me sane, called writing.

And where I have all the control and all the responsibility, because not a word goes out without my say-so.

So I thought about all of this, and worked on it for months, and then let it sit.

I’m ready to let them be public, even though some will not be fully realized until the end of Book #3:

**********

Tagline: Pride’s Children is

The Great American Love Story.

Logline:

To safeguard a powerful actor, a damaged writer must first salvage herself.

Pitch:

When a reclusive bestselling novelist crosses paths with the rising actor of his generation, she finds her capacity for obsession is not dead. The friendship that develops when his next movie films near her rural refuge, and he fulfills his promise to visit, creates a challenging bond that threatens to destroy her. But when America’s Sweetheart decides she’s the one who will engender with him Hollywood’s supreme dynasty, can the writer navigate the razor’s edge from friendship to forever love, and save his unborn children?

Mission statement: what you are trying to achieve

To make the mainstream reader live three lives so closely from the inside, right behind the eyeballs, that reading Pride’s Children is a roller-coaster ride which makes the ending inevitable and utterly believable.

**********

For better or worse, they are now on record.

The writing proceeds.

The writer’s Kindergarten: cut and paste

WHEN STUCK I GO BACK TO BASICS

And I’m writing this post now for two reasons:

  1. I just had to go through this – again – and other writers might need the same trick
  2. When I woke up this morning and reached for something on my desk, I disturbed the page I used (photo above), scattered all the little pieces of paper, and realized I don’t need to keep them around forever, even if they did rescue me.

I’m an extreme plotter by nature and by practice and by brain damage.

Things have to be organized so I know what goes in each scene, because I can only work with the content of ONE scene at a time (and yes, if you’re wondering, I have used this trick on paragraphs, beats, and scenes as well, when my brain refused to do the organizing internally).

When I got to the current piece in the middle of the WIP, I realized that, inexplicably when I stared at it, the next scene was NOT ready for my ‘process.’

I came to a standstill

For several days.

Abortive attempts to write the next scene failed to make that scene gel, despite having a title and the usual nubs I use to attach words.

Since I was worrying about politics, and in the middle of getting vaccinated for the coronavirus, it took me a while to track down the reason: when I was doing the Great Reorganization of 2007 (GR07), I had had the same reluctance, created something that sort of worked at the time (a list of scenes covering what would happen in this part of the story), and decided to DEAL WITH IT LATER.

Unusual for me, but I was trying to get to the end of GR07, we had half the way to go, and I only had a few more days of the concentrated time I had been saving for the reorganization.

I believe in football American style they cause it punting.

In 2007 I moved on

Never thinking that it would be 2021 when I got to this point in the writing.

I was young(er). Naive(er).

Trying desperately to take that original rough (very rough) first draft of the whole story to the next level – which required the complete reorganization AND a committed devotion to upping the quality of my writing (no, you are never going to see that draft).

and it worked

I moved on. GR07 became the reality.

By dint of work, the writing problems got solved one by one.

Pride’s Children PURGATORY was written and published in 2015 (yeah, I’m slow), and I immediately moved on to NETHERWORLD.

I believe they call it a poison pill

Maybe not so bad.

But a buried little landmine all the same.

Because there was a reason. I know it now and I knew it then: this piece was going to be very hard to write.

And, as is usual with such, incredibly important.

I couldn’t handle it in 2000, when the story came to me.

I couldn’t handle it in 2007, except to realize there was no way around it, and I would have to deal with it during the writing of the second book (nameless at that point).

And I couldn’t handle it at first when it got to be late 2020 and I hit the red flag marking the mine.

I couldn’t even have written this post.

You can’t skimp on the hard parts when you write

The hard parts are WHY you, and not someone else, is telling this story.

The hard parts are where your writing should shine, and, given enough work and time, where they will.

If your story doesn’t have hard parts well executed in it, it’s not going to be the best book you can write.

Because you shirked.

I don’t shirk.

I kick and scream and complain and try to find ways around the roadblock and hope some insight will just remove it.

And then I admit it needs the work, and I do it.

On this one I had to go back to Kindergarten

Yup. Basics. Writing things on single lines. And cutting the sheet into real-life strips of paper.

And rearranging those strips, edited as necessary (in pencil), into the RIGHT order, with the right words, plus any surrounding fill text, until the whole emerged.

Somehow.

That’s the level I have to go back to when things get really bolloxed up for whatever reason.

Eventually, it works, and I find it all amusing. Sometimes I blog about it.

But you’d think that by now I’d be out of Kindergarten, wouldn’t you?

**********