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.

What do you do with infuriating reviews?

NOTHING

I won’t even defend the grammatical correctness of that statement in the picture: EVERYBODY has an opinion, most of them WRONG.

WRITERS put their opinions out into the world where anyone can read them.

Readers have opinions, too, and they get to express them in many places, one of which is the very modern REVIEW.

This is the system now, people.

Get used to it.

For all the complaints, the reviewing systems are not going to disappear because they have enfranchised the disenfranchised billions who never had a platform before, and now they do.

Moderators may keep the discussion to civil levels.

Insecure bloggers will delete or alter comments they don’t like from opinionated readers who disagree with them.

But I’m finding that I don’t spend much time reading the word of bloggers who don’t ever bother responding to their interlocutors. Not worth it. It has become a two-way street.

[Sort of. The pitifully awkward communication via mobile may be the ONE thing that destroys the system, because it is much harder to do on those tiny keyboards. But wait for good speech-to-text software and microphones that can pick up the speakers subvocalisations, and we may be back in business.]

Everyone’s a critic.

Today a writer whined about her first 1* review, on an FB group I participate in – after writing a bunch of books! Lucky woman. Most of us get a 1* on the first book!

I could tell you stories. In fact, I will. Below. Because one of those reviewers (not the 1* one this time, but bad enough) got MY goat. [Lovely thing, name of Billy, soft, intelligent, beautiful brown eyes… but I digress.]

Writers are asking for it

Literally. We want reviews. We want feedback. We want to know when our arrow has hit their bullseye.

But we don’t want their bullshite.

We want praise. Glorious and unstinting and erudite and literate (not the same thing) praise.

Because, to be able to write well (assuming that’s what the goal is; with some writers you wonder… but I digress), we have to sit at the keyboard and open all our veins to get enough blood to write with (takes lots of extra blood for all those sidetracks and failed attempts that occur with good writing… but I digress).

And being open is a target for, well, bullies. (Anyone who doesn’t like our prose is… darn it with the digressions today.)

Unconscious bullies. Jealous bullies. Bullies-who-had-a-bad-day.

What to do?

NOTHING.

Nothing overt or aimed at readers or argumentative or likely to start a flame war online!

There is enough garbage on the internet already.

And we have the example of very popular writers: pick your favorite, and your favorite book, and go look at the reviews. All of them. ESPECIALLY the negative reviews.

And remember, on AMAZON a 3* review is NEGATIVE/CRITICAL. Don’t believe me? Check those reviews on your favorite book’s page again: the 3*, 2*, and 1* are CRITICAL/NEGATIVE reviews.

On Goodreads, 3* is good, 4* is great, 5* is ‘best book I ever read.’ According to their rubric (I don’t make these things up – what’s the point when you can check so easily?).

On Amazon, 4* and 5* are good, 1*, 2*, and 3* are bad. Just to summarize that neatly for you.

Got it?

Find a place where it’s safe to vent (your own blog should be such a place, even though it’s pretty public, as long as you don’t identify anyone specific or any specific negative/critical review). Better still, complain only to friends and on closed writers’ groups, but it may not be as satisfying.

The upside?

Another review is another review. They keep adding up. SOMEONE is reading.

And reader/reviewers write their thoughts and opinions in their reviews; other people may read the reviews and gain more understanding of what they may be choosing to read. This is good, especially with the negative reviews.

But it ALWAYS points out to you that your ad copy, cover, description, back copy, quoted editorial reviews – everything up until the sample/Look Inside – is attracting certain readers. This should make you pause and THINK.

I know I have a lot of thinking to do (I knew that already, but it was far down on the To Do list, and has moved up quite a bit) when I get a negative review from someone who probably should not have read the book. Because it’s really not their kind of book – and I can’t change it to BE their kind of book. The story’s already set in concrete, all the way to the end of the trilogy, even the parts I haven’t written yet. The style, tone, characters, plot – all implacably going to be very similar to what is already published.

If someone states unambiguously they don’t like Mexican food, don’t give them a coupon and invite them to rate your Mexican restaurant. ‘Twill end badly on Yelp.

So our signals are crossed.

I’m glad they tried something obviously out of their regular reading zone. I’m very appreciative of their reviewing – most readers don’t, and it is an effort I appreciate. I’m not particularly pleased they rated the way they did, but I’m very glad they pointed out in their review what they liked and what they didn’t. That’s data for me, not for writing, but for marketing.

Not sure this counts as a rant, but it is an attempt to bang my head on the wall. Without doing too much damage – I’m slow enough already.

As an author, I do not go to my reviews and down rate the reviews I don’t like. It’s better if readers do that.

Now I’m going to take a nap. All this ranting wipes me out. Especially the ‘tread lightly’ part.


A reminder that Quozio and Stencil provide me ways to make images, gratis, and I would get a subscription if I needed more than a few graphics a month. This little bit of advertising – and the things I create with their tools – will have to be my form of payment for now. I AM grateful. The words, of course, are mine.


What’s your favorite negative review?

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What do disabled writers fear most?

FROM THE DRAFT POSTS FILE – 6/30/14

Waiting since June 30, 2014:

You fear getting worse. Because you can. Get worse.

And when writing is a marginal activity already, getting worse can be the snowflake that sets off the avalanche.

When I was young and able – a status not all people who are disabled can claim – I thought I could handle ANYTHING that Life tossed at me.

I was me – I’d figure out a way. Somehow. Eventually. And I always seemed to. I had a brain!

Now that the only way out is death – which is, I hope, still not close – I am facing the trauma of becoming even more disabled, more dependent on other people, less able to care for myself.

Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

I fear losing even more of my mind. Now, if the planets are aligned, and I have done everything correctly, I get to live in the simulacrum of the mind I used to have – quick-witted and opinionated and so-often right – for at least a little while every day, or to feel it there, right beyond my fingertips if I take that nap, stop leaving the house so many times in a week, get to bed early: it’s there, it hasn’t gone completely, and I had it yesterday, maybe today, perhaps tomorrow.

I have already told my husband to put me in an Alzheimer’s/dementia facility if my mind goes – I don’t want his tender care, watching over me, stuck with that version of me. My mother and my grandmother sank into that hole, and it isn’t pretty – what if I got CFS because I am somehow genetically weak? And have already passed it on to my kids – the older two without knowing, and the third, the girl, after I was sick?

That way lies madness.

We all have SOMETHING wrong with us.

And it’s only going to get WORSE.

The happy seniors hiking in the mountains are in the minority: statistics tell me that if I live to 85 (I planned to live to 115), my chances of dementia are 50%.

On top of this unhappy state of affairs (and I have to my credit only one thing: I’ve never asked Why me, Lord?), I have been dealing, for a number of years, with the inability to walk properly – and here I thought it was ‘ONE disability to a customer.’ And it’s getting worse.

Actually, no – if part of you doesn’t work perfectly, if part of you is ‘disabled’ – it has a tendency to put other parts of you at bigger strain, and to make you more likely to get something else. Plus the statistics are exactly the same for you for anything unrelated to your disability as it is for other people: there’s no reason to think having ‘gotten’ your disability, you can now breathe free: people with one thing can be gifted with another unrelated one just fine (CFS and back problems do not usually go together, though possibly less exercise meant less fitness, which led to more susceptibility to back problems, or earlier, or…).

So why do I write about this potentially depressing subject?

You know the answer: because I’m that weird thing called a writer, and that’s how I get my jollies. No, really, I’m compelled to write down – anything that floats through my head. To get it out of there, of course, out where I can beat it with a stick (if you do that while it’s IN your head, there are problems).

There. I feel a bit better. Thanks. Thought you might like to know.


PS I speak only for myself – THAT I’ve learned. Finally.

PPS Going for that delayed nap I should have taken much earlier, but I couldn’t make the decision to, because, well, I’m over the age of consent and resent like heck that my mind needs frequent naps to work at all. Plus – oh, joy – the sheets finally came out of the dryer, and I always nap better on clean sheets. (Note to self – try to remember that, will you?)

PPPS Relentlessly dragging myself back from the brink.


2018: Still here, still writing.

Stubborn cuss.

And note I finally published in late 2015.

How to self-edit fiction with AutoCrit

CAN A WRITER SELF-EDIT SUCCESSFULLY FOR PUBLICATION?

I keep getting into online discussions with editors (cui bono?) who insist that no writer of fiction can or should self-edit. Not for publication, they say. And they cite the example of so many self-published books which are full of typos and grammar mistakes and spelling errors as proof.

Yes, there are many self-published books which need better editing. According to Sturgeon’s Law (Theodore Sturgeon, 1918-1985, American SF author and critic):

90% of SF is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap.

My paraphrase, but it will serve. It is now being applied particularly to self-published work, but applies to traditionally-published work as well. We can argue about the percentages, but the point is that much work gets published without meeting someone’s standards.

Some of us care. A lot.

I happen to believe that the best gift an author can give herself is to learn to self-edit well enough for publication.

The reason is simple: If you can learn to produce quality work all by yourself, the READER gets the unvarnished best the writer can produce, UNALTERED by someone else.

Voice unaltered. Tone unaltered. Style unaltered. Judgment unaltered. Story unaltered.

The thing which makes a particular writer unique is preserved for the delectation of the reader. Artisanal. As all writing should be.

And it only comes from really being aware of what you write – and why.

Okay. Now that we have the WHY, let’s have the HOW:

Think of the best quality in published traditional work. You should aspire to better that standard.

This is not an easy task. There is learning. And failing. And getting appropriate feedback. And yes, making mistakes in judgment and execution.

But setting yourself a rigorous process, adding to that process as you learn, and following that process isn’t that hard. It just requires becoming aware of the difference between the story in your head, and the story on the page, and not quitting until the difference is as small as you can humanly make it. We call this ‘work.’ Hard work. I have made a contract with my readers that I will do this work before they get to read what I write.

It is work that is rewarded by making you a better writer. Big reward. Useful reward. And, in the long run, it will save you money, frustration, and dealing with people who don’t get your vision for your own work.

Enter the final mechanical stage.

Once I have used everything I have learned about writing from my teachers, books by Sol Stein, Donald Maass, Blake Snyder, the Dramatica team, and all the reference books off- and online, I have a scene or a chapter which needs to be cleansed of dead skin.

It isn’t ready for the beta reader until it is finished, but my ‘finished’ needs the final mechanical stage. I use AutoCrit for this purpose. As close as I can get to the original AutoCrit program which is basically a counter of terms and a comparer of those terms against a database. There is a new version; I’ve learned to ignore the new parts because the last thing in the world I would pay attention to is a program telling me what to write. Writing is my job.

I want the mechanical editor to tell me what I’ve done, in a very black-and-white way. I want it to count for me, because counting adverbs is the most boring thing I can think to do by human. Or counting the number of times a four-word phrase (each possible four-word phrase in my text) is used. Or counting the number of times I have used words or phrases (and showing me where they are). And making a list of unusual words.

For this I use certain specific sections of AutoCrit.

After pasting the text in, I visit the following menu items:

Strong Writing: Adverbs, Cliches, Redundancies, and Unnecessary Filler Words.

Word Choice: Generic Descriptions, and Personal Words and Phrases.

Repetition: Repeated Uncommon Words, Word Frequency, and Phrase Frequency.

For all of the above, I ignore the program’s nagging (such as ‘Remove about 3’ when it somehow decides that I have too many occurrences of ‘that’), because for me, AutoCrit is only an automated counter doing the dirty work for me because I’m too lazy to do it myself (and know that humans given mechanical tasks make huge mistakes because they get BORED).

I do NOT use other sections. Why? Because they judge me. Or someone wrote a little piece of text to put there that sounds just like it. Once we go from comparing the number of times I use ‘that’ to the average for fiction in their database, I have all the information I want from an algorithm.

Pièce de résistance: how to use the information.

This is the writer’s job: every single counted detail from my text, generated easily by a program, is now subject to the final test: Is this the way I want it?

In other words, it’s back to me. Not with suggested ‘improvements.’ Just counted, and displayed for me to decide if it serves my final intent to have the text stay the way I wrote it (remember, I considered it pretty much finished before I tossed it into AutoCrit).

If it shows me clichés from its database that I have used, I have to decide if the character using the cliches uses cliches. Some do, some don’t. Clichés are neither good nor bad. For some characters I will keep the cliché but try to make the sentiment unique again – which leads to some pretty interesting substitutions from that subconscious brain.

If it shows me I have used one of my personal words a certain number of times (my worst lately tends to be ‘get’ and its variations ‘got’ and ‘getting’ and ‘gotten’ – all of which I’ve input to my personal words file in AC), I will decide 1) if there are too many, 2) if they are the only way to say something (rare), 3) if they have a literary intention (parallel structure often leads to word repetition the database can’t account for),…

Generic Descriptions usually have to be separated into two piles: those in dialogue (and even those benefit by tweaking) which mark a specific character; and those in the internal monologue where I dump what other people use a narrator for (It was a dark and stormy…), ie, description. I may have a very good reason (really) for using the generic description, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded to check.

I never, ever, use AC’s Homonyms tab, because it is excessive, and I can spell, and have NEVER yet found myself using the wrong homonym. Okay, maybe two or three times in the 3.5 MILLION words I’ve put through AC, but NOT by using the Homonyms tab. Too much stuff to process – there are a lot of homonyms in English, and they will find all of them and offer what seems like every other word in a red box. There must be a better way to do that mechanically (don’t mark every ‘you’ because it might be ‘ewe’); meanwhile, I put those words I might misspell by accident into my Personal Words file (though, thought, through, thorough).

Summary

First, examine every single kind of counted word or phrase that you might not otherwise catch, and

Last, decide whether and how to fix it: you’re the author – it’s your baby.

Very simple.

It still takes time, and a lot of effort, and a lot of thinking, and going back and forth to Scrivener with the text of a scene.

I find I can do about 5-10 corrections at a time, after which I save the results in Scrivener, get a fresh copy of the text, paste it into AC, and re-process that tab/menu/submenu.

All other types of errors – spelling, punctuation, point of view consistency, chronology and plotting, content (was this character a red-head?) – should have been eliminated (by me, the spellchecker, and a dictionary/thesaurus) before I use AC.

But I care – and I’m not using my beta reader except as a first reader. For what should be finished work, so she has as clean an experience as I can make. I don’t want her pristine read complicated by anything that distracts her from the flow; when she tells me something doesn’t work for her, it is going to be taken very seriously.


And that is how I use AutoCrit (I have a Lifetime membership – worth every penny) to do what no human editor should be asked to do (count) and what I don’t want an editor to do (change ANY of my words, which includes suggesting I change them). They may not be happy about this, but it is the least traumatic way for me.

I really should stop even clicking on those ‘everything needs an editor’ posts. Their authors, some of them editors, hate people like me.

Is the gift worth your LIFE?

ONLY IF YOU HAVE TO

I wake up angry too many days.

Then I spend time getting myself at least back to neutral, because I live with other people, and it isn’t fair to them to have to put up with me in that mood, unless I have no other choice, and we already know I have a choice, because I have used that choice successfully every day for many years now: figure out how to, today, and get over yourself.

Every day I berate myself

Because I don’t get to work sooner.

I sit at my computer, and end up checking out whether anything has changed in the world since I forced myself to go to bed last night. Now that we have online subscriptions to the Washington Post and The New York Times, I do a quick flip through the headlined new articles, to see if anything needs my attention.

I remember the comic (xkcd, I believe) about how someone can’t go to bed because the internet is broken.

I know it’s partly physical: for some reason probably related to illness, the brain comes on slowly, and usually doesn’t really focus on anything mentally challenging until after first nap. That baffles me, and scares me, because I have to drag myself into that first nap, too, always convinced before I do so that it won’t help, that if I could just force myself through, block the internet, START working I would now be fine for the rest of the day, and I’d get everything done which never gets done.

Every day I test out my mental speed by doing hard sudokus: under about 6:30 minutes, I can probably do something useful with a small effort; over that, and I can’t usually write, and, worse, make mistakes of epic proportions (luckily Scrivener has snapshots and I do backups erratically but so far successfully). Those scare me – when it takes you a month to write a scene exactly the way you want it, and you think you have deleted it, well, it’s not a pretty feeling.

Nothing helps until somehow

The process starts up by itself, if it’s going to that day.

Many days it doesn’t – and I am helpless to understand why. Because it seems that other, equally stressed days, work.

I laugh when I see people suggest taking days off: it takes me so long to get back to where I was when I’m forced by Life to do something else for a few days that I am pretty sure I won’t make it back to writing ever.

My brain is on instructions to at least try every day, and, indeed, I have no idea what I’d do with a day taken off deliberately from writing.

Back to the ‘gift’ I’m writing about

And that gift IS writing.

Not that I have any choice in the matter, it seems, but the writing, as it is now, is the result of who I’ve become.

And that’s the question: if I had to choose, and I had the Hobson’s choice of writing what I do and being sick, or neither, would I value what I’m writing enough to choose illness if that were its price?

Is one single story – if that’s all I manage – worth a life?

Is LoTR worth Tolkien’s life, GWTW Margaret Mitchell’s? And why classify myself with them (and neither was ill). What about ‘Barbie Takes Manhattan’? Or ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’? Or ‘Harry the Cat’?

The choice is an illusion

I have children and a husband – they come first.

And, as soon as they don’t need me this instant, I try again to focus.

I took my nap, am more awake (though sudoku still says well over 7 min.), and I come back to the same question: is this worth writing? Is it worth my life? I’m not sure what the answer is, but it certainly is what I want to do with my life, with the energy I get, with the time I spend/waste every day.

I didn’t make this choice – it chose me. Somehow. Like the other gifts in my life, I’ve found myself nose deep in the pool whether I liked it or not.

By standing on tiptoe, I manage not to drown. And then another day comes, and another task, and I find myself, on the good days, inside my head walking Kary and Andrew through an exchange, planning exactly how Bianca will take the next step, knowing what is coming, but not exactly how the words will play out yet.

And wishing I could speed it up.

What did you get for Christmas?

The same old thing.

I don’t want a pony.

But I want this. And if this is the price, yes, bring it on.

Hope you got what you wanted.


 

Is the artist in the way of the art?

IS THE WRITER’S APPEARANCE A DETRIMENT TO HER OWN WRITING SUCCESS?

When I was growing up, books had plain covers (no representative art), and the only means of interaction between reader and writer were the words on the page.

I usually skipped things like Forewords, and if I read the author’s bio, it was a quick pass, more destined to reinforce his name than anything else, so if I liked the work I could find more by him.

To this day, I have no idea what Robert Heinlein looked like, and only know what Asimov looked like because he was a bit of a media hound (and I had him confused with Einstein, which would have tickled his fancy. I think.).

There are statues of Marcus Aurelius, in stone or bronze, I assume – never even thought to look.

Modern digital life has changed all that

It is almost annoying when an author goes to a great deal of trouble not to let readers know what she looks like.

I prefer actual current photographs for avatars.

It is a problem for those with multiple pen names.

And I wonder just how much it influences the readers, especially in some genres.

Should Romance writers be pretty?

Humans who have sight are very visual creatures. It is estimated (somewhere) that 80% of our energy goes to dealing with visual input.

We react negatively to ugly things – after millenia of evolution that correlated ugly things with things that were often bad for us, such as rotted animals or toxic snakes.

Other things, such as the thickness of the ankles of young women in countries where sunlight was insufficient part of the year – which is an indication of ricketts, a disease which might also have affected her other bones, and make her more likely to have problems in childbirth, have gotten folded into our standards of beauty: thick ankles = not attractive.

I notice the way authors present themselves (check out Kristin Hannah’s Amazon author page) – and wonder how much that affects her sales (she’s gorgeous, and that’s a great photo). Wonder how any others can compete.

Do readers wonder if any of what’s in the stories is based on experience?

What about opinionated authors?

What do you think of authors whose claim to fame includes a very solid amount of in-your-face-ness? Are you more likely to read their books?

I loved Rudyard Kipling stories; reading about his attitudes has put a bit of a damper on reading his books, and would make me think hard about gifting them to a grandchild if I had one.

I make judgments about people based on their appearance

All the time.

I also immediately catch myself at it now, and look at those judgments dispassionately to see how much might be true. I have managed to change my own opinions quite a bit by a continued practice, and no longer automatically make some judgments which used to bother me a lot because they were so automatic, and couldn’t possibly be true.

But I’m wondering if, in the race for sales, those who look good have an unfair advantage. Again.

At least in getting started in the race.

Choose how you present yourself online

Not suggesting this should change, but I can’t quite stop making those automatic judgments about the photos that people choose to represent themselves with on their author page. Or avatar. Or book cover.

The good thing is that it is usually just at a few places, say Amazon, FB, your blog, and they don’t get to see what you look like first thing in the morning.

I need to work on that.

Do you ever think about how you are influenced by what you ‘know’ about an author?

My funny 2017 Thanksgiving Day story

THE CLUELESS WRITER STORIES

The only excuse for this is that I’m pretty isolated, the kids are too far away for travel and for various reasons we two just don’t ‘do’ Thanksgiving any more (except that husband has opted to have me make his traditional pizza – I get the crust ready, he piles on everything he loves).

Out of the blue

My dear friend Sandy called this morning, to invite me out for lunch for my birthday. It’s a tradition we’ve had for a long time. As she has moved from New Jersey to Vermont (though her youngest is still here), it is an unexpected pleasure because she is here to celebrate the day at her old home.

I was delighted, and we quickly agreed on a time and place. We eschewed our old ‘writing partners’ traditional restaurant because, the last couple of times we’d been there, we both agreed quality had dropped.

I enthusiastically agreed to The Cheesecake Factory. They’re a bit noisy, more at dinnertime though lunch should be okay, but their food is good and has a great variety, and they have low carb cheesecake!

Write it down, Alicia!

I write the information on a Post It!, being as I am getting forgetful and don’t want to make her wait tomorrow, even changing the refill on the gel pen to make sure the note was nice and dark. I stick the note where I can’t possibly not see it several times today, which is what I need for it to penetrate.

I’m sitting here at the computer wasting time, as I do in the mornings, thinking about the posts I’ve read this morning, and the general concept of being thankful for what you have, and grateful in general. I turn to erase the message on the answering machine which is blinking in my peripheral vision’s range.

Suddenly, the slow-moving cogs in my brain finally do something. I stare at the note. I start laughing.

I call Sandy, startling her (I’m sure she’s probably up to her ears in cooking or something), and say, “Do you realize what day tomorrow is?”

She said no, and I pointed out it will be Black Friday. She still doesn’t get it. I said The Cheesecake Factory is in QUAKERBRIDGE MALL.

We agree neither of us do Black Friday – and I said, “But other people do.”

Disaster averted

We had a good laugh, picked a different place far from any shopping venues tomorrow, and will have a great lunch catching up.

I can only imagine what it would have been like if clueless me had gotten into the car and tried to drive to the Mall tomorrow for lunch, late as I usually am at that point.

I hope ONE of us would have noticed by then.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

Me, I’m just grateful I’ve received so many things today to make me laugh.

Life happens in between story moments

FENCE, WALL – THAT WAY IS BLOCKED

Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

One illusion novels maintain is that nothing of importance happens in the moments the writer chooses not to present on the page.

I bank on that bit of prestidigitation myself; I’m not against it, but I have to remember to consult my story calendar, the plot, and logic, when I fill in one of the prompts I always use:

Timing considerations: Since last scene, or last scene for this character, what has changed/happened? Does it make sense? Does it have conflict opportunities? Does it have to be dealt with?

A novelist fills the gap with a word, a flashback later (if the reader is lucky), or a jump cut, simply switching to a new scene with the assumption that readers can figure it out.

And we do. Movies no longer need those silly calendars showing the pages blowing off – we get it.

There is still, in most novels, a sense of moving forward in time, and not bothering to document the smaller bits that make up existence: characters eat, take a taxi, work.

But readers have an innate sense of when an author left something important out. The reader’s mind goes, “Huh?” Too many of those, and the reader is no longer interested in the story because, truly, there isn’t one.

We’re watching a couple of streaming TV programs: Hinterland (set in Wales) and Crossing the Line (set in Europe), and have these little discussions about linearity of plot, because either they do things differently on the other side of the pond, or we’ve lost some important ability, because we don’t get things much more often than we expect not to understand.

It’s a minor annoyance when watching TV, and my guess is that something got cut between the script and the final edit – different people doing the work? The shows are atmospheric enough to carry through (though the first seems both skimping and padding because I think I could cut it from 90 to 50 or 60 minutes and it would be improved considerably).

Life is boring

And full of little details – things which have to be done – but which contribute nothing to the eternal verities. I spent my good time this morning talking to online pharmacy and doctor’s office personnel – and got no writing done. Eventually, the pills I depend on may make their appearance, and I won’t be in so much pain I can’t think, much less write. As many of us are finding, those drug-seekers out there (some of which are probably just getting crappy medical care, and are experiencing pain they should be) are making life much longer and more boring for those of us who are trying to follow the rules.

It’s always so: the rules are tightened, but the people who are breaking them aren’t affected, and the ones who were not doing anything wrong have to deal with more paperwork.

This makes the future scarier

I can sort of cope now – if I don’t do anything time-wasting such as trying to concentrate on my writing for a few hours.

Some day I won’t be able to cope at all, and someone else will have to do this stuff for me, and they probably will neither do it right nor efficiently, and I will have no choice but to suffer the consequences.It is laughably difficult to leave instructions for such things as “don’t feed me carbohydrates,” or ” I can’t lie comfortably very long on my left side without a VERY thin pillow under me,” or “I HATE raw tomatoes.”

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

Badly, because my coping skills are somewhat age-dependent, as everyone’s are, but much slower than most people’s to start with.

I really thought I’d be further along – that I’ve learned to gather the input for a scene faster, and turn it into prose faster – but it isn’t even keeping up with the increased pressure of “thing that must be done.”

The big ones

Settling my parents’ estates and filing the required tax returns – an exercise quite pointless, as there will be no tax money in it for the government.

Finding a retirement community – I have realized lately that financial information (ours and theirs), and knowledge of floor plans and meal plans, is barely the beginning. As I dig deeper, I find the questions of medical care when you can’t navigate it yourself, and even simply paying your bills in that condition, are much more important. And we haven’t even STARTED visiting the Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing components of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), which are looming as more and more important to choose correctly from the beginning, because you’re going to end up in them if you live long enough! And you will not be gleefully looking forward to moving in to them in most cases.

Dejunking this house/Selling this house – a difficult pair of things to do requiring millions of decisions which we can repent of at leisure.

And the very worst of all

I resent not being able to work myself out of the current many holes. A lady doing the fast walking jog many people think is called ‘running,’ but won’t mess up her hair or get her too sweaty; the man with the white ponytail and the limp who goes out for a painful walk regardless of the temperature or conditions most days; the children – especially the one little grandson who spends HOURS trying skateboard tricks or shooting baskets when he visits next door – all these people are ‘working on it,’ my standard response when asked about anything, but they are actually working on something.

Me, I’m stuck. I get one little thing done, painfully, and the ‘things needing doing’ merely provides the next customer in a Black Friday-long line.

I gotta get out of this place, but it may end up being the last thing I ever do, at this rate.

I make a list, read it, pick one thing to do. It is the A1 now, and the system is to get it done, because it is the log that is holding everything in a jam. But I’ve been telling myself that for weeks, months, years – and it’s a lie. There’s always another. When do you know if something is real or just depression talking?


What’s the answer? Is there a solution? SATURDAY

I’m hoping so. I’m hoping it is to focus on all the little good pieces:

the last message from the online pharmacy was that they had approved my prior authorization – without any further calls from me to them OR the doctor’s office; they may even manage to send me my perfectly legal, non-narcotic, non-opiate pain pills without me having to chase them down, and possibly even repeat that twice more in 3 and  months. Meanwhile, I pray the generics figure it out.

I am much further along in the estate-settling – and can’t do anything further this weekend; I hope I have figured out the way that doesn’t require exorbitant taxes.

I think that ‘we have to get out of this place’ has finally penetrated – we’re both quite tired of the continuing stream of maintenance, and the computations are almost done; a trip to California may be in the offing (let’s hope I survive!).

I may have located the cause of a couple of physical problems – that would be a lovely set of things to remove from my life.

And my standby solution – rest and reset the brain – still seems to work. Happy weekend – I’m going to go use it now.

And maybe one of these days I’ll learn to advertise…

One for my side: Google confirms I can spell pretidigitation and know what it means!


How’s your weekend going?

And thanks again to Stencil for the ability to make images out of thin air.

Fiction: the SECOND-BEST path to empathy

DIRECT EXPERIENCE BEST PATH TO EMPATHY?

En carne propia‘ – ‘in your own flesh’ – is always the best way, subject to the limitation that reflection is necessary to develop empathy, and a certain amount of facility with the concept of sharing something emotional with another human being, which is not necessarily evident in all cases of shared experience.

Having cancer does not confer automatic empathy with other victims of the disease.

And direct experience also has the flaw of actually being divisive if the two people with the same experience have reacted very differently, and they put that down to some inherent quality in themselves. This results in the ‘I got cancer, and I did X, and now I’m far better than those lazy sods who won’t make the effort to do X…’ phenomenon.

Because direct experience doesn’t include another person.

You’d think it would make people empathetic, or at least sympathetic toward the others in similar circumstances, but no.

Fiction is a largely underused way to deliberately develop empathy

The fiction-based trick is that you can be pulled into experiencing what another person – a character in a book – experiences, IF there is enough information in the writing.

On August 22, 2017, I had a guest post on Big Al’s Books and Pals, and I posted the link to that article here. The title Al chose out of the ones I supplied as suggestions was ‘Want to be someone else? Read fiction.’ Which is true, but didn’t mention empathy. My bad – I should have chosen my own title.

I had a couple of interesting conversations there with readers of the blog who commented, and that was the extent of the feedback.

I’m reproducing the whole post here:


Fiction is uniquely positioned to develop and increase empathy, because it provides a way around and under and through the barriers most people put up around their hearts and minds.

Humans think in stories. Why? Because we spend our lives learning the rules that ensure our survival.

Our brains are wired to learn in two ways: first, by direct personal experience – a hard way to learn some rules. Our feelings then cement the lessons, make them unforgettable.

And second, by empathy – acquiring knowledge through the experience of others.

For this, reading fiction is the best way to learn. The rub is the experience has to feel real for it to serve that purpose, exactly as if it happened to us. And the way we do that is through our emotions, which are engaged when the experience is ours.

Fiction is better than facts: facts have no emotional component to make them stick. We store them away, hope to remember them when we need them. Going on a hike across the desert? Bring water. Check.

Fiction is better than non-fiction: reports of the experience, say, of crossing the Antarctic in the middle of winter, are both entertaining and raise in us sympathy for the sufferings of the explorers. Poor guys!

And reading fiction is much better than video input for one simple reason: we can’t pretend video is happening to us when it is so clearly happening to someone else. Sympathy, not empathy.

And that’s the key: reading fiction is the best way we have to feel the emotions created by experiencing something as directly as possible without it happening to us. Because, as we read, we have to put in the effort to create, out of black marks on a page, the actual experience in our minds.

Listening to stories works almost as well, but requires a storyteller, and the emotional component is affected by that teller.

Reading is just you and the book.

Oh, and the author.

Most fiction invokes the sympathetic response in the reader – the entertainment value hooks the reader, and we’re off on an adventure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, because we need entertainment to relax after our own lives, however crazy or calm. Lots of entertainment.

But the best fiction aims deeper: to ‘grab the jugular.’ To ‘feel like a punch in the gut.’ Or the dreaded, to make you think. Which is really to make you experience, to fully engage your empathy, to make you feel as if it happened to you. To teach you. To change you.

Here is where another of the rules of life comes into play: humans hate being preached to. The preaching is an overt attempt to change the reader or the listener, via logic backed up with emotion. Usually negative emotion, fear: you are bad, you will go to hell, you must change! You are bad, you will destroy the Earth, you must change! If you touch the stove, you will get burned, don’t!

So the author without the moral authority of the preacher or the physical authority of the dictator has to be sneaky. Covert. Tease and wheedle rather than command. Better still: make you complicit in your own change. Make you want to change.

And how does the author do that? By pulling you in with superior entertainment value (remember, we need lots of stories) up front, and by layering the experience which creates the empathy for the new experience under that. Great stories, story moral picked up by the reader from being the character, having the story happen directly to him.

We then come full circle to Show, Don’t Tell. Show the character having the divorce or being attacked by terrorists or marrying the prince. If you have your parameters right, if you’re telling the story the right way, the reader has identified with the character, and the reader is getting divorced. The reader has to escape the terrorists to save the President. The reader walking down the aisle just realized the rest of her life is proscribed by royal protocol.

The author’s power is very real.

Authors don’t always use this power to its fullest, because there is a final step: choosing the purpose of the empathy, choosing the change for a higher aim: the good of humanity.

Sounds horribly preachy, doesn’t it?

What prompted this post is that I don’t like a recent way this power is being used, to push an agenda which makes me sick to my stomach: the proposal, supported by carefully crafted stories, that people who are defective/handicapped/ill should remove themselves from the world because they are a burden to other people, and that this frees the other people to go on to something better.

Disabled people already face an uphill battle in many areas of their lives. Having society go back to an earlier model of disability which says that ‘they’ are a burden to other people, and therefore don’t have the right to the same hopes and aspirations as the ‘normals,’ is a huge step backward. To encourage them to consider removing themselves is a further abuse against their rights to live and to love.

As an author of fiction, I have the following tools:
I know how to create sympathy and empathy.
I know how to appeal to men and women.
I know how to entertain.
I know how to bury something deep in the fabric of a story.
I know how to make you identify with a character.
I know how to create situations that test the limits of character and privilege.
I know how to manipulate your emotions.
And I know that ‘disability porn’ – using disabled people to be ‘inspirational’ – is roundly despised by disabled people everywhere.

By picking the right story to tell, I believe I can make you buy my premise that disability is not the end of life as you know it.

Now that I’ve revealed many of my secrets, you still have to decide whether you’re going to let me try. And then decide if I know what the heck I’m talking about.


Why repost my own post?

Because I don’t think readers of the original blog, which sends out daily emails with reviews of indie books, are used to posts that are not a review, and I’m hoping the ideas will resonate with readers of this blog.

 

Character motivation fail last ditch solution

SOMETIMES, LOOK AT THINGS BACKWARD

I’m STILL a new author. Millions of words written over more than twenty years, but only one novel published.

It’s always something

And I’m surprised to land in a situation I haven’t had to write before? Gimme a break! There a huge numbers of situations I haven’t landed characters in and had to write them out of yet.

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself. After the headache from pounding my head against the wall goes away, of course.

Book 2 of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, has been giving me writing problems since the minute I got started on it – that should have been a clue.

There is no point in writing scenes and circumstances similar to the ones in PURGATORY, because I’m finished with PURGATORY. I know – have always known – that NETHERWORLD has to kick everything up to a new level, or I’m just going through the motions to finish a story I could be bored with.

How is the second novel in a trilogy different?

Only I’m not. I have a whole new set of story pieces that need exploring. Plotting with Dramatica does this. And writing with it has been described as going through a four-story house, thoroughly exploring every room on each floor before going up the stairs to the next floor. Everything on the second floor is new. Sitting on top of the first story, but not requiring me to go back down to the first-floor rooms, because they’re already done.

What I have to do, instead, is listen to the gut feeling that tells me I’m NOT writing something the way I want to (I know when it’s right; this scene isn’t).

And yet the process is complete. I know how to gather all the pieces of a scene, how to get it (or something like the final version of ‘it’) started, how to organize the flow, how to end a scene with a line that leaves a question.

Notes from the current Production file:

I have one per scene; that’s where I work all this stuff out because the inside of my head is not usable workspace for complicated stuff – I lose too much.

All this agonizing really means is there’s work to be done. So do it.

Other writers have written outlandish things – there are solutions. Only I will have to figure out my own.

And in all those years of stuffing my head with reading material, I must have absorbed something useful. Making the effort will bring up any pieces I can’t find in my writing books. It’s just work.

The Production file notes (pieces removed, so as not to give plot away at this stage, marked by ellipses):

Nope, there’s still a motivation problem. We know why Z is unhappy – Y is being a stinker about the …. We know why Z pushes X and wants W there.
But we don’t really see why X ultimately agrees to assist.
X is stuck – things are NOT moving forward.
X thinks W might be able to help.
W can say no, and X will be off the hook.
But X is the one who has to write a letter to go with the … Z is sending.

X has an ethical dilemma.

Turn it INTO an ethical dilemma

Let’s look at it from the other side: X DOESN’T write the letter. X argues with X to attempt to see what’s bothering X. X figures it out: sort of screwed either way.

Then X looks at consequences further down the line – and doesn’t like them.

Work OUT the ethical dilemma

Production files again:

Then Z goes ahead with his plan (and Z’s now pissed at X); W comes or doesn’t.
If W comes, W will wonder what the hell, and why didn’t W even get a whiff of warning from X.
If W doesn’t come, does W interpret it as X being protective? Or as X not warning W – for X’s own selfish reasons?

Ethical dilemmas in real life

I need to remember that in real life, if the answer is clear, an ethical dilemma doesn’t exist or is trivial, and it is BORING.

And that readers pay to see someone other than themselves grapple with consequences as a way to see a different possible solution.

I’ll work it out. Soon, I hope. So I can write it – and go on to the next one.

 

 

 

Queen of the Ninja Storage Vaults

IT’S THERE; RIGHT WHERE I TOLD YOU

Yes! With fist pump!

Today I found the solder. Let me tell you the story.

I am famous in my family, and even now that the kids have left home, my powers are intact.

IF nobody moved them (that is a fairly important part), I can tell you where an awful lot of things in this house are stored. (It’s also on a card in my storage card file, but nobody other than me looks there.)

I have had that power since before the children were born, but it was just a normal skill, and didn’t develop into a super-power until they were old enough to send on hunting expeditions to the basement (and other places, but the basement is notorious).

The object of my command

was, of course, to retrieve an item I needed (rarely one someone else needed, but it did happen) from the basement storage area WITHOUT me, the maternal parent, having to go down to the basement.

This is the object of the hunting expedition most mothers send most children on.

My mother used to catch me unawares and start her command with, “You’re younger than I am…,” something rather hard to dispute. So I learned from the best (she managed five daughters, a cook, a laundress, a gardener, and a maid or two, with aplomb, but these minions had regular hours, and these orders usually happened after those). Then she would send me upstairs if we were down, and vice versa.

So I would send the Ehrhardtlets down to the basement with very precise instructions describing the appropriate shelf, drawer, or box, and request the item I didn’t want to go up and down two flights of stairs to acquire.

The results of my command

“I can’t find it.”

Or worse: “It’s not there.”

Sigh.

Followed, if I really needed said item, by the traipsing down to the basement (or occasionally up to my office) with said offspring in tow.

And, usually, the highly satisfactory discovery of the item in question EXACTLY WHERE I SAID IT WAS.

Followed immediately by being accused of having ninjas which had quickly put it there, because it wasn’t there when they went down (or up – usually for my good scissors) to look.

Uh huh.

Not just the kids

“I’m going to the hardware store for some solder.”

“We have solder. Did you look in the solder box?”

“There’s no solder in the solder box.”

“Are you sure?” (I’m up three half-flights of stairs.)

“Can’t find it.”

“I’ll be right down; I’m pretty sure we put some away just the other day. You didn’t use all of it, did you?”

“No.”

I go down to the basement. I look to see – having some vague memory of using the labeling tool – whether I put the solder in a different plastic shoebox (and labeled it – because that’s what I do). I look – after asking him – in the boxes where we carefully placed all the parts of the current job that took over the workbench. Nope.

Frustrated, I go back to checking the solder shoebox for the third time.

And there it is! The solder is in the donut-shaped white plastic container, with a loose piece coiled up in the hole. It’s in the box clearly labeled ‘soldering supplies.’ I hand it to the husband, get an incredulous look back.

He has more sense than to mention ninjas, so I, having just located the solder where I said it was, IN ITS PLACE (even though even I couldn’t SEE it), mention them.

We laugh.

And I remain the Queen of the Ninja Storage Vaults.


PS Occasionally it was on the next shelf.

PPS This was used as an occasion of glee.

PPPS I am rarely wrong.

 

 

Structure and me we’re old buddies

STRUCTURE – FREEING, NOT CONFINING

Doing my visits to my favorite blogs, I ran into a new post on Maverick Writer (recommended because has such novel ways of looking at writing) about a writer for whom the hallowed three-act structure, re-examined, provided new insight.

Catana writes in a number of fantasy sub-genres, and we’ve had some interesting conversations about many topics, but I didn’t realize until this post that she’s a dyed-in-the-wool pantser (at least I think she is, from the posts and her comments).

I always find it fascinating when someone tackles long-held beliefs and finds something usable in the opposite to what they’ve assumed, whether they change or just incorporate some of the ideas, because writers, especially older writers like me, NEED to do that and remain flexible and open to ideas.

I, myself, can pants for as long as maybe ten or twenty pages (which need revision). I have to work hard sometimes to bring my own posts into some kind of logical format before I send them out into the void, some days more successfully unified than on others.

Structure is how I manage to write

For me, with the brain fog and the CFS, who can’t remember from one day to the next sometimes what she had for breakfast, structure is critical.

I don’t have to create a soaring 150 floor building all at once – I can set up the structure, and decorate one apartment at a time. On bad days, I can decorate one room in the apartment. And on really bad days, I can paint the cabinet door in one room.

I’m very aware other writers can hold their entire book in their head. I might have been able to do that now had I not gotten sick, but that ship has sailed (I routinely carried an awful lot of subroutines in my head when I programmed, and their connections, so it’s not too farfetched).

But I can’t. And, to tell the truth, it’s an awful lot of stuff to carry around.

The three-act structure, revisited

She’s giving it a chance. I hope she finds some useful pieces, as the desired result is always a story that hangs together.

I was going to comment, and it got too long, so:

As for me, extreme plotter that I am

I live and breathe structure, because it FREES me from the plot after I set it up. Then I can concentrate on characters, and themes, and just the right amount of scenery, and language…

Today I was working on a scene which is pivotal to Book 2, even more than many. I started from scratch – the old rough draft is hilarious. But I knew why this scene needed to be here, and what would happen if it were not (the story comes to an abrupt halt). I knew who was probably in the scene – and it didn’t change the structure to make a few small changes there. The scene had no preferred physical location, as long as its aim was accomplished (and it is in Uttar Pradesh, India), so I had the fun of brainstorming – and came up with something I never would have thought of before that I think will give it a great punch.

When I got to my question on foreshadowing (every scene gets asked that question), I saw oooh! a perfect opportunity. In it went – because I know the foreshadowed event will be happening, and this will make it not seem to come out of nowhere. Moving an interaction from a later scene into this one – because the structure allows it – lets me add some conflict which actually affects the aim in a usable way.

Etc.

Getting the whole to hang together

Otherwise, each one of the ideas that come to me while writing could be a dead end, and waste hours and pages, and mire me in mud.

I hate throwing away usable words, because I work hard now while writing the words to make them be good from the beginning. I toss lots of stuff – but compare it to the structure as I decide to toss (or move it elsewhere – after all, my brain gave me those words for a reason).

I think this one will be fine with around two beats, and the material is starting to organize itself into two piles that ‘go together’. Beats are my in-scene structure. Each scene needs a first and last line – which connect the scene to the chapter and the book. Within the scene I need (as per The Fire in Fiction) an outer and an inner turning point so the scene is coherent as a whole.

Anyway (nobody ever asks about structure, and you didn’t really ask, but I love it), when I start tomorrow, I will have all the sequins – and the costume cut out, and the assembly may take as little as a day (assuming my brain is on). Works for me.

Like making a collage: first I gather substrate and pieces, then I affix them where they please me, then I hang it where I always intended to.

Reader or writer, what is your gut feeling about books that do – and don’t have structure?


Stencil gets my thanks for making easy graphics possible. Give them a visit.

Check out PC’s reviews on Amazon – just got a sparkly new one!


 

Writing in a niche market is fraught

AND CAN BE VERY HARD ON THE EGO

When feedback is rare, because, as an author, you haven’t ‘taken off’ yet, the individual pieces that come your way can carry far more power than you expect. And do more damage, or, in my case, make you a lot more stubborn.

What is the niche? INDIE NON-GENRE fiction

Classified – or should be – as General Fiction, ‘literary’ only if the quality is up to the standards of readers who specifically choose to read literary fiction (and omnivores).

That quality is subjective, to some extent. There are so many ways for a novel to fail, from poor characterization to too much characterization, from implausible plot to none at all, and from the habit of stopping the story for minute description of details to an overreliance on flowery language.

I amused myself for a while reading the negative reviews of popular literary fiction, until I realized that the authors were doing quite well – and their fans often didn’t bother to leave feedback (how many ways can you say ‘I liked this book’?), but their detractors did, so the ratings tended to be skewed.

These authors long ago learned to ignore the critics, write the next book, and feel confident it would be bought in reasonable numbers.

I have not. Yet.

Stubborn I have been since a small child

I was the kind of ugly duckling people hesitate to pick on. Unkindnesses were not uncommon, but outright bullying requires the consent of the bullied – or their physical inability to resist – to work properly, and that was not me.

I had a family to back me up (“our ugly duckling, right or wrong”), who loved me and still do (thanks, guys!). I didn’t have any of the easy pickings, gayness or excessive weight (though I was on the stocky side) or scandals in the family or dimness. It wasn’t much fun to pick on me, if I even noticed it, so I was mostly left to my own devices.

And I didn’t CARE about other people’s opinions (except my parents’). We felt we had the best possible parents compared to all our friends, so it was a serious failing not to be up to their standards, and we tried very hard

Why mention this unlovely trait? Because it affects not my writing directly (I’ve pretty much settled into a voice and style, at least for this set of books), but my mood.

Making my mood conscious, and then removing it if inconvenient, takes up some of my daily time. Sometimes the process results in reflection, and you get a post.

I’m trying to improve both sales and reviews/ratings

The plan was to have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY selling quietly at some rate in the background, with borrows from Kindle Unlimited a separate small stream of income, justifying the writing.

I tell myself that writing is a business, not a hobby. One may become a talented amateur painter, for example, but no hobbyist-painter spends every possible moment painting.

The difference is both the intention – and the time and effort put into the endeavor.

Which has led to me spending time looking at the means for promotion available to those pesky self-publishing indies.

That’s where the niche part comes in.

If you write, say, Science Fiction or Category Romance, you have a lot of company (writers) and a defined (and large) audience of potential readers. Within these genres, there is a sense of camaraderie, and a sharing – on the indie side – of information about which means of promotion work, and how to go about them.

What works for INDIE GENRE promotion?

I am well read on the methods – indie writers are very generous with information.

Nothing is a slam dunk, of course – people who think you just throw a book together, repeat at three-month intervals, set the first book to permafree or 0.99 and pay off your mortgage, find the field harder to plow than they expected. There is work, and savvy, and exploiting the available avenues, and marketing, and spending your money wisely on ads and promotions.

But a new indie writer – or one tiring of the traditional dance and swallowing her distaste and trying self-publishing (usually because traditional publishing has huge problems for genre writers, including skimpy advances (if you get one at all) and very low royalties) – finds many ideas to try.

Follow the methods. Write your books. LEARN. Cross-promote. And if you’re energetic and confident and prolific – and can write worth a damn, especially within genre conventions – you can make a career.

Stealing fire from the indie gods

I’ve been reading all this since I started reading the self-publishing blogs in 2012, and educating myself to the business side of writing.

And every thing I read was cause for reflection – and me looking for the other side to the idea, the one that might work for me. Because I knew, from the very beginning, I was different.

I doubt traditional publishers would take a chance – that pesky heroine, and some of those ideas – not at all ‘more of the same.’

And I also knew that ‘prolific, ‘energetic,’ and ‘genre conventions’ were not going to work for me.

I have been welcomed in many places, even as I bring in my weird differences, simply because most indies are welcoming people. Their success doesn’t depend on keeping me out of a traditional publisher’s catalog slot. We are competitors in only a very general sense.

The one I am trying now has to do with Amazon ads; I’ve joined a FaceBook group whose purpose is to learn how to master Amazon ads in two ways:

making you comfortable with advertising on Amazon – and teaching you how to create the ads, and

fine-tuning the ads to find a comfortable rate of return for your advertising dollar.

The people I share this group with are mostly indie (a few hybrid authors do traditional + self-publishing). And most of them are very firmly genre writers: thrillers and cozy mysteries, paranormal Romance and Christian Romance, SF and fantasy.

I haven’t found many ‘literary’ or mainstream or general fiction authors identifying themselves as such. So I’ve been mostly alone in my plan to see what I can adapt from genre techniques of marketing, reading every post with the intention of turning it on its head if that would help ME.

The HOW

I have a very specific set of techniques in my plan.

It may not be doable.

It may be doable, but so expensive that it’s not worth it.

I won’t share unless it works, because the techniques are also very frangible and friable and delicate. I can see them working – and then not working if even a relatively small group people decide to try to follow suit.

What I’m NOT happy with

This is the hard part, and I’ll illustrate it with two bits of feedback I received in the past two days:

Negative:

Readers’ Comments
‘Interesting in many ways. The characters have considerable
depth and the plot is interesting. It could do with a good
editor in parts to ‘cut it down’ a little. Also, parts of it
are difficult to follow. I had to re-read the first chapter to
understand all of it. But, if you are prepared to work, you
will find here a fascinating story populated with strong
characters. Just a note, the cover’s a bit flat.’ Male reader,
aged 42
‘Powerful characters – yes. Interesting plot with plenty of
twists – yes. Well described setting – yes. Very complicated
and a hard-to-follow writing style – yes. This probably needs
an editor with a red pen to cut it. If that happened, it would
be a top-notch EPIC!’ Female reader, aged 56

‘A bit too ‘wordy’ for me. If you read it, have a dictionary
handy. I’m guessing this was a huge job to write. And for
this, I congratulate the author. Her knowledge of her settings
and characters is stunning, and the illness of the author is
well-handled and adds a further element of interest. I enjoyed
it, though it was a rather exhausting read.’ Female reader,
aged 59

‘The stream of consciousness is interesting but killed the
book for me. It just over complicated the story and made it
difficult to follow. Personally, I would encourage the author
to cut the length of this story considerably. The characters
are interesting and well-handled, the plot is powerful with an
excellent ending. It just needs editing a little.’ Indie
Publisher, aged 51

I.e., Change your writing – it’s too long and too hard for me.

Positive:

Thank God for positive!

I have long finished your book and loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. It was entirely to my taste. “The Essex Serpent” had this kind of pacing as well, and I found myself absorbed in the balance between internal monologues and external events. I ended the book wanting to know what happens to Kary, Andrew and Bianca next.

I.e., I like it the way it is and want more.

Why point out only some people like it?

Because when you write to a niche, but there is a much larger pool of readers who won’t like what you write, or won’t quite ‘get it,’ you have to be very careful NOT to attract those other readers – who will then leave the exact kind of reviews you don’t want to be associated with, lower your rating, and attempt, in their kindness, to ‘fix’ you and your writing.

And when the readers you DO want to attract by your ads are firmly convinced that no indie author can write the right kind of novels, because if they could, these writers would go through the traditional gatekeepers and be blessed and vetted, the least thing can scare those readers off from even trying to read your book.

Ergo, fraught. Writing in such a niche. And even more fraught, is trying to find a way to do it indie anyway, including advertising. And still find readers.

The topic is esoteric to the point of madness

For which I apologize.

But I had to find SOMETHING to do with the feedback which showed up in my inbox, and with the well-intentioned comments (change your price, get a professional to edit your work, get a professional to design your cover, make it shorter, CHANGE your book) which has been my fare lately.

So I share it with my friends.

You’re already used to me.

How to pick a forever home

CHOOSE VERY, VERY CAREFULLY!

I’m in the middle of a huge search.

For a while now I have been staring the rest of my life, so to speak, in the face.

It has become – even before the events earlier this year which resulted in three stents – very obvious that living in a 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath NJ suburban home was becoming untenable.

Like the older pet which needs to be rehomed so it can live out its remaining days in relative peace, I can’t handle the little I used to be able to handle of my life – without some major changes.

ALL OF THE FOLLOWING ASSUMES YOU HAVE SOME CHOICES.

When you have no choices to make, you live the best you can, going along from one step to the next as well as you’re able. Your choices are dictated by the moment, by an illness, by something external you have no control over.

To a large extent, this depends on prior choices – did you take care of yourself physically? And did that work for you? Did you put some money into savings – assuming there was some to spare? Have you invested in a house which can be sold now? Are you able to move if that’s the best choice, or does something anchor you in place?

If you are poor, your choices are limited all the way along life.

If your health is not good, your choices are extremely limited. I’ve dealt with that one myself for 27+ years, with no end in sight; any change in that part of my life will be created, within the disease of CFS by me, and without, by some unknown researcher some day. Even if a cause and treatment are found, or a treatment only, there is no guarantee that it will reverse the damage I live with. Me managing like crazy, just to stay on a slowly-declining plane, is already doing the best that I can.

If life is unkind, you are already stuck, but there may be a possibility of becoming unstuck some day.

Facing the facts in time

Many people wait too long to make the decision where to go, what to do – and end up making that decision by accident, when a life crisis comes along.

Friends of my parents gave me a model. I didn’t understand it at the time, since they were living in a fair amount of material comfort in Guadalajara, but they went and bought into a community in, I believe, El Paso, TX. J at least was an American citizen, and one or both of them would probably have had Medicare by that age, and possibly they wanted to be in a place with access to American hospitals and healthcare. I know none of the details, but it seemed odd at the time (my own parents didn’t do the same, due to large extended family in Mexico City, and more limited funds) because of their family in Guadalajara, but now I see they were making a decision for a whole bunch of things while they were still capable and competent to make those decisions.

It has stuck with me, even though it has taken until the last couple of years for me to see the why.

I began four or five years ago to seriously consider the future. The kids were not all launched, but that time was coming closer.

I remember pointing out the advantages to a planned change – rather than a chaotic one induced by circumstances – to a colleague in a support group who was older, and whose wife was older, as well as to family.

No one listened; and the colleague’s wife now has advancing dementia – making it very difficult for him to move, for her to adjust to somewhere new, and for her to help in the decision and the move. Family has reached a different solution, and it was as a response to crises, just as I predicted, crises that might have been avoided.

The stories are everywhere: people whose parents refused to ‘be put in a home’ until a major illness or crisis caused a non-optimal solution to be hastily implemented. People who didn’t move until one of a couple faced significant health problems, at which point it was too late to enjoy the move.

We are fortunate to have options

Which is almost funny, since the story of my life lately is that I’m completely out of options.

I preach the necessity of disability insurance, if it is at all possible (and recommend you pay for it yourself – which has huge tax advantages if you need it), because you are five times more likely to become disabled during your working years than to die – and everyone has life insurance, but most don’t have disability insurance. Private disability insurance goes beyond SS disability (which is downright stingy): it kept us middle class when I became unable to work.

Consider also the possibility of a disability lasting long enough that you really need some built-in inflation protection. I had none, and it really hurt.

I would have been able to save more money had I worked. I prefer working – keeping myself sane these many years has not been easy.

So, facing the decision of what to do with the rest of our life is happening with me still sick, but with some retirement accounts and a house which can be sold.

The parameters to the decision

I am fortunate to have a living spouse in reasonably good health – right now. In fact, I would like to preserve that health: when he goes out to clear the snow or mow the grass on a hot humid day or prune bushes standing on a platform, I worry. I used to help with the snow – can’t do that any more (but he FINALLY bought a snowplow). I used to do a fair amount of the weeding – can’t do that any more, because sitting on the ground or a low chair or bending over cause significant pain over the next couple of days, and that heat and humidity are probably what landed me in the hospital this last time.

So he’s doing ALL the work, and even with some help from an assistant, he’s still IN CHARGE of all the work. We had people last year; they were ultimately unsatisfactory.

Taking care of house and yard consumes too much of his energy, all of mine, and just has to be done again. That doesn’t even take into account ‘things that go wrong,’ such as the roof or the AC or the driveway or the trees that die.

So, the obvious is a place where we do none of the maintenance work, in or out.

Another stressor has been how hard it is to leave the house to go somewhere for a vacation, added to how long it takes us to pack – and leave the house so someone else can do the bare minimum. Homeownership had its joys when we did everything ourselves (BC – before children); then it became just work while the kids were home and things got done when they had to be done, in among all the other chores; now it’s impossible.

Pet care – you’d never believe how hard it is to take care of one tiny chinchilla, and how difficult to arrange for someone to keep her alive while we’re gone. Impossible without an assistant (thank goodness I have one now for a few hours every week), still tricky even with someone who potentially can drop by every couple of days to make sure Gizzy has food and water and the AC hasn’t died (if it gets too hot, she won’t make it – that thick silky fur coat). Already seriously considering finding her another home (anyone want a slightly spoiled chinchilla?), and am making sure anywhere we consider allows pets in case she goes with us.

These will be the best years we have left

Seems obvious, but we’re not getting any younger.

I want a place where I can make the big push for 1) getting as much exercise as the CFS will allow, 2) making the best use of any improvements in walking ability, 3) hoping that reduced stress will contributed to better overall health and mobility.

This means I need a year-round pool and gym, and PT people on-site, somewhere I can actually get to without spending a day of my energy.

And we need bike paths. Even though I can’t go far, not being able to walk doesn’t mean I can’t ride a bike! My limitation is actually the energy – I can go short rides, hope to be able to increase those a bit.

And I want good weather: in NJ, if you miss a ‘good day,’ there may not be another for a while. I grew up in Southern California and Mexico City, where weather was a stable thing, and the next day would be much like today, and both would be pleasant. Then, going out to do something will be governed by whether I have the energy today, not by whether it’s feasible!

I require a heated year-round pool. No quarter given on this one: I’m a water baby, even if I’m not actually swimming, and I’m not moving somewhere for the rest of my life that doesn’t have a pool. Not happening.

I tell the spouse that the next 5-10 years of our lives are the good ones – and if we are to do ANY traveling, it will be now. I want to see my mother and my extended family in Mexico, possibly at family reunions in Michigan. I want to go to the beach in the Riviera Maya or in places like Acapulco and Huatulco, which have warm ocean water in the winter. Because I know I can do these – at my extremely slow pace (once I cope with a week of packing and survive the week when we come back). I want to spend time doing a vacation with the kids while it still is fun for most of the family.

The solution? I’m working my tail off to find it

California has, at last count, 102 CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) – places we can move to and get all those things above.

Some of them are unsuitable because they are retirement communities for particular religious groups we don’t belong to; others are urban and have no pool; still others are way too expensive for us (I’ve eliminated all the for-profits). Some would make it difficult for me to get to the gym or pool – my time being coherent is also limited, and the more energy I expend in getting, the less time I have for the activity; the independent cottages, ‘just a short walk away,’ seem, by definition, to require more health to get to the pool or gym – I believe an apartment in the same building as the facilities is my best option.

The CCRC concept is doing well. It is recommended you stick with places over 90% occupancy (proof of continuing fiscal responsibility), but when a place is 98% full, by definition there are few units left! People move on to assisted living or nursing home care (a CCRC by definition has both available to its residents when they need the next step), and some pass on, but the rates are not high, and I’d like to move fairly soon (once the pesky house is dejunked and sold).

It is a lot of research work and no one can do it for you. Not really. I have spent hours talking to nice sales and marketing people – only to hang up and realize there is no way we can afford their lovely CCRC. The main reason: they don’t put their prices on their websites (probably because then people won’t call and talk to the nice salespeople), but it is inefficient and wearying when you really do know how much you can afford and what you need, which most people on this search don’t yet. A tendency to put information such as ‘apartments start at…’ out for view means people think they might be able to swing it – and then can’t when the range of prices becomes known.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina

I’ll figure it out. We’ll pick 5-8 of these places, and then take ‘the trip’: stay in a few, see the physical plant, smell the nursing home portion (apparently, that’s the biggie – clean places take work and money), and have lunch with some residents in assisted living to see how they are really living – and being treated.

Then we will make a decision, hope the house-selling sill support that decision, and spend an enormous amount of my good time – and all of husband’s – actually doing this.

The average age of entrance used to be 80; it’s already dropping as people realize they can’t live worry-free if they have a house on their hands. Even with a lot of money and a lot of help, it’s a constant set of chores.

Think about this sooner, rather than later, if this kind of solution to our common problem appeals to you. Time goes by much faster than you expect.

Wish us luck (even if you would never consider leaving your home, or living with a bunch of strangers horrifies you).

 

 

Walking around in fear is stressful

IT IS NECESSARY TO CHOOSE TO DUMP STRESS

I’m walking around fearing sudden death, sudden incapacitation, and the need for more time-sucking procedures/tests/doctor visits/hospitals…

It’s too stressful to LIVE THIS WAY.

But after a certain number of life hits on the head with a 2 x 4, there comes a state close to ‘learned helplessness,’ where, if you’re not careful, you LET the stress have free rein – and, while you can’t change reality (whatever that is for you), you have forgotten that you CAN change your attitude.

It never stops, the stress from life

In addition to the medical stuff, which came unbidden and must be dealt with, willy nilly, I now have some dental stuff – and what the dentist thinks is necessary to do.

And I’ve accepted the job of ‘person who locates and chooses our permanent abode.’

Permanent, as in ‘where we – husband and I – will live the rest of our lives.’

The permanent solution to life

We are looking at the particular model of a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) for a bunch of reasons, the main one being that we want to spare our children (none of whom live close to us now) the ‘problem of mom and dad’ – basically, what to do with us when we’re no longer competent to manage our own affairs, and they have to step in and make decisions FOR us.

We have seen, first hand, how our parents dealt with this.

First hand – and at a distance.

And it is an interesting general problem which we’ve now seen proceed four different ways!

In Mexico City, my four lovely younger sisters have done the ‘huge extended family takes care of mom and dad’ – and are continuing to date with Mother. Done with love, it has still taken a huge amount of resources, and I have been in no position to help with much – I barely manage to visit every couple of years, and do the tiny bit of US paperwork (still incomplete) because my parents are both US citizens.

In the States, my lovely sister-in-law, who has always lived much closer to my in-laws, has undertaken the huge and complete burden much of the time, shepherding her parents as they wished and she could, and pushing for more permanent solutions when they had to be undertaken. By herself, with occasional help from her brother – as she requested it – she is still supervising all the care for my FIL.

We will have no child close, geographically, unless we move close to one of ours (and that child doesn’t move following professional opportunities, the thing that took them far away in the first place). We have no extended family in the States.

And I, with my disabilities, could provide little help to them, even if I lived close.

Making our own choices requires an enormous amount of work NOW

Evaluating places to move to, figuring out finances (husband is doing most of this part), comparing the amenities – and the long-term healthcare options – at each place has become my additional task, added to trying to write, learning to advertise – and the energy-sucking cardiac rehab exercise.

The additional task that comes when you decide you no longer want to be in charge of a suburban NJ house is selling it. Which require getting it ready for market. Which in turn requires fixing a number of ‘little’ things which, while they don’t affect the quality of living in a house all that much (such as a bump on the driveway from a tree root), WILL affect either the salability or the eventual sales price.

And the final task: dejunking a house we moved into in 1981 and reared three children in (and homeschooled them in).

Even with an assistant – whose time has been mainly spent lately helping the Master with the annual gardening tasks, not me with the dejunking – the decisions are mostly mine. And I don’t make decisions easily (that brain fog thing you have with CFS) or quickly, even with help.

There are twin mottos to keep me going: ‘If it doesn’t give you joy, out it goes,’ and ‘If it won’t fit in a two-bedroom smaller apartment, out it goes.’

Even then it is hard to make the decisions, and they must come out of my tiny daily supply of ‘good time’ – which is also my WRITING time.

Compartmentalization – and all the other tricks

The stress accumulates. I notice. I poke holes in it, take the time to do my de-stressing yoga-type breathing. Repeat.

Because there IS too much stress right now, even if the ultimate goal is much less stress.

To Do lists. Using a Scrivener Project for each of the tasks.

Doing the required things – I will not give up the cardiac rehab exercises, even if they are not yet providing anything much in the way of extra energy.

And letting go of the guilt, including the guilt that pops its head up because I can’t contribute what I should have been able to contribute to this household, had I not gotten sick all those years ago. A hardy perennial, that guilt.

And the guilt of actually spending that money we have carefully been not spending all these years, so we could take care of our needs in retirement.

And, almost daily, talking myself down from the ledge of ‘Woe is me!’

Writing suffers when the writer is stressed – normal

Blog posts have suffered, and will continue to, but, ironically, I need this outlet – because it de-stresses me to pin all this stuff to the ground in its little cages, where I let one problem child out at a time, on my better days.

The writing happens most days – though not as long. I have learned to accept that pinning something down on a timeline I haven’t looked at in two years WILL take that day’s energy – and is a GOOD use of that day’s writing time – because it MUST be done.

Most of these are from things I probably should have figured out long ago, but 15 years writing the first novel was already long enough!

I think there aren’t too many left, but have just dealt with a doozy.

And am very pleased with myself because it DID work out – and locked in, again, that odd feeling I have sometimes that I am a chronicler of an actual story. Good if you’re writing mainstream fiction with a long timeline, many characters (64 NAMED characters as of the last time I counted), covering locations in several different countries and states.

My solution to stress always includes writing it out

That’s how I make sense of the world, take the circling thoughts out of my head and acknowledge and record them, and eventually find ways to deal with them.

It is also part of my usual process to… I don’t want to say ‘cheer myself up,’ because that somehow implies putting a false face of happiness on top of the real problems. To talk back, to the stress, to the situational depression, to my feelings of inadequacy, to the long list of things I SHOULD have done and SHOULD be doing which get ignored.

Basically, the MORE dysfunctional I become, or allow myself to become before I notice that it’s gotten me again, the LESS I can do to change anything that’s causing the dysfunction, and so I have to get out of that state. And I’ve already proved – by trying – that I cannot accept chemical help and still get anything done.

So it’s my own resources, the written process after the thinking, and continuing to chip away at everything as long as God give me life and any ability to do.

And it’s a good time to prioritize (which I’m not doing as well as I need to).

MY motto is: “I’m working on it!”

Thought you’d like to know – and me to record – what ‘it’ is right now.

I’m working on it. You?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Revenue-enhancing’ has become a dirty word

DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU SIGNED AND WHAT IT OBLIGATES YOU TO?

Even if you have insurance!

It didn’t used to be like this, and I’m sure they have plenty of good reasons, probably having to do with nitpicking by insurance companies, but I’m getting really tired of getting lied to, and having to be on my guard all the time for every little thing when I go to the office of some medical professionals.

I don’t want to name names, as I suspect it’s widespread, but I’m finding that I can’t get out of a medical/dental office without little enhancements  to the experience being offered as if they were included, or as ‘covered by insurance, so don’t worry about the cost,’ and when I check turn out to be covered – yes, but at 50%. Or with a ‘credit toward’ some expense which is entirely optional.

Or in the case of one practitioner, when he informed us that our insurance allowed us the reduced cost which had been negotiated by the insurance company – they didn’t actually pay him anything! I felt cheapened by the experience (which was expensive), and wondered whether I was supposed to be offering him his full price!

The lists of what isn’t covered can depend on whether someone entirely separate from you has called this (whatever it is) by one name or a different name, such as people being warned lately that a hospital admission (going in and staying over night) is not necessarily a ‘hospital admission,’ covered by insurance!

It wouldn’t be my problem, except that these little untruths are destined to cost ME big money, if not just time and effort. And hours on the phone to attempt to straighten out with person after person on the phone in ‘billing.’

Is it necessary – and if so, why isn’t it covered?

I depend on my insurance company to, in some sense, control the costs of medical procedures, which, having written this, may be the problem.

But I can’t change the contract negotiated between whoever is paying for the medical insurance and whoever is paying the providers of medical services by one iota.

I don’t expect to hear, from an insurance company, “doctors recommend this as completely necessary, but we won’t pay for it.”

Also, I don’t actually hear from a provider, “this is absolutely recommended, but insurance won’t pay for it.”

Instead, I will turn up at an appointment for a covered service, and find I have to see the billing person first, because I have a HUGE ‘copay.’ At which point my choices are to leave, or to pay for a bill I wasn’t expecting. For a service the doctor says is entirely optional – but necessary.

The result? Constant vigilance is required.

And I can’t go to one of these visits and deal with something that pops up on the spot (there is a small additional charge for X because insurance doesn’t cover it) – done in such a way that you are a cheapskate if you don’t get the extra candy-flavored teeth protection for your growing offspring.

Or you have to respond to the eye doctor’s in-house glasses representative that yes, you know the frames available at Retailer-X are cheap – and that you don’t care.

You can’t get home, as I did today, and find out that the service you received as ‘it’s time for your X-rays’ is only covered by your insurer every 60 months. And you didn’t ask, because you assumed that was their job.

Am I exaggerating?

I think not. This has happened in at least five different places and kinds of medical services in the past six months.

And even the blood tests are done by a place which hands you a form that says ‘Medicare may not pay for these services’ and requires that you sign that YOU will pay for them if Medicare rejects something – the doctor ordered!

Every time you decide you’re not going to take the risk, you end up spending gobs MORE time there, and may have to fast all night again if your doctor’s office doesn’t happen to be open that early on the day you went in.

Because, ultimately, the buck stops with you, and this stuff is unbelievably expensive (when billed at full rates), and they will send bill collectors after you.

So it’s important, you have little control, you can prepare for one thing and be bowled over by something else completely without realizing it, and every single thing will cause you stress, time, and energy.

I wonder how the older folk cope?

Has this bitten you?