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.

Based on a prompt: Baby Egg

 

THIS ONE’S FOR MARIAN

She insisted I should finish it.

I decided to give myself a few more words than the 100-word limit of the Drabble – it takes time to shorten, and I’m in the middle of NETHERWORLD, but her prompt inspired me, and here it is:

BABY EGG

She went every day to visit the baby egg. Through its translucent shell, her first child grew peacefully, with her heart sound piped in, and a gentle periodic rocking to simulate her walking around the kitchen.

Protestors screamed outside the lab that it was unnatural.

But it had finally removed Eve’s curse: no birth. No stretching the body out of shape. No pause in the ability to work. No pain. No surrogates wanting to keep the babies they carried for others.

She’d have to be in town when the baby ripened, but, other than that, she couldn’t see why she wouldn’t bond perfectly well with her offspring – after all, adopted babies did fine, didn’t they? There was the oxytocin nasal spray, and the hormones for lactation, and the nanny to do all the changing of dirty diapers.

It should be a hoot to play with when she had some time.

Here’s Marian‘s prompt:

It’s a baby egg. The neighbors got chickens that lay teeny wee eggs and gave me some. I had tomatoes from the farmers market, so I made a marriage in heaven.

She has a cute picture of a very small egg in her hand.

For the record, this is the new ‘block editor’ for WordPress, and I hate it.

Any time you change things I was perfectly happy with, I resent the huge loss of time.

I no longer have any idea where the things I depended on have gone.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

They do realize some of us have damaged brains, right?

I have no idea how to access the media, or how to insert an image, or…

Pretty much sums up my life.

And I have no idea what this will look like, vertical-spacing-wise.

SIGH!

——————-

How to torture your favorite writer

Graph from Kindle showing how many page reads Pride's Children has over a month

THIS IS OLD – BUT THE PRINCIPLE STANDS

I haven’t advertised in ages, because I haven’t figured out exactly how to do it when you write in a 1) smaller niche (mainstream love story), that is 2) usually NOT indie (and you write indie), and are 3) slow (so there won’t be another book for readers for a while longer).

As an expected result, sales are slow (but someone bought a paperback this month – Yay!).

And, under certain conditions, you can SEE a reader take your book out of KU and read a few pages (first yellow bar – around 10, maybe 11 if the next bar was right after midnight).

And then read a few pages every once in a while.

From a later graph and adding all the page reads (PC is just under 400 pages), I think the reader finished by May 19th.

Slow writers take our encouragement where we can get it

But it is amusing to watch a graph like this one (and the speeding up at the end) go by when you are doing your daily check.

And to decide what you’re going to assume about the reader (since you have no data but the few points on the graph, which you assume come from the same borrow) based on NO OTHER INFORMATION.

In this case, I assumed a busy life, and a few pages read at bedtime by someone who KNEW they had to get up in the morning to work. Fair enough?

READERS owe writers NOTHING

I will say that as many times as necessary.

Once the book is on the open market, buying – or borrowing from KU – is more than enough for a reader to give the writer.

At that point, we hope they will enjoy it.

Anything else, a rating, a review, a recommendation – is above and beyond, and a gift.

If a reader buys the paper book, we usually don’t even find out if they read it unless a review shows up (these can really make your day; the absence is just normal reader behavior, because few review).

Between the reader and the writer

This has been the contract (a one-way contract) almost forever: I will read.

Going to the next level of writing a fan letter was very rare, even in the olden days.

Doing anything else other than having a warm feeling for the experience (if that happens) nowadays is as rare.

When you see a book with many reviews, it is usually because the book sold many copies – and the usual percentage (tiny) of readers left their impression.

Occasionally, a very good (or very bad) book may solicit a higher percentage – meaning it hit readers in the gut.

Torture away

Writers don’t expect much feedback

Our readers are mostly not writers – they are the people we hope to serve entertainment to.

But it is possible (probably unconsciously) to torture your writer – by proving you can put the book down, over and over.

If you need to do that, please go ahead. It does require you borrow the book from Kindle Unlimited first – and then read it a tiny bit at a time.

Know that the torture is even better because Amazon pays authors not when the book is borrowed, but as the pages are read.

You’re welcome.


PS: I’m going through my files of draft posts I never finished to see if any still tickle my fancy. This one did.


 

Target reader emotions when you plot

WHAT DOES THE READER REALLY WANT?

I just had a tough decision to make in a scene.

I waffled – there were two ways to write the thing, and there were pros and cons for each of the ways.

Until I hit the right question.

The two ways were:

for a character to stew all day hoping she could achieve her goal that night

-or-

to be confident all day that she would achieve the goal, and spend the time planning how she would enjoy it.

The first way is more dramatic – for the character.

The question?

What is worse – for the READER?

The actual plot will go to the same place: either she will or she will not get what she wants; that was predetermined in 2000 when I started this.

But now that I’m writing the scenes, I need to shift a bit from ‘what happens’ to ‘how do I PRESENT what happens’?

I know where it’s going – the reader does not.

I created the rollercoaster – the reader wants a good ride and a thrill.

My virtual teachers (writing books) teach me that the reader can handle the centrifugal force from being thrown around curves in the plot.

More than they can handle being on a nice calm piece of exposition which is BORING.

Once I asked the right question

the answer was obvious.

The ride for the reader is MEH if they see her seethe all day – they can hope she won’t achieve her goal, assume something will come along, again, to defeat her.

Instead, if I write it right, the reader will see her confident – and reviewing all the reasons she is sure to get – what they don’t want her to get!

And that will torture the reader more than the feeling of ‘she has failed before, she will fail again’ READER certainty.

Can’t have the reader comfortable, now, can we?

Process

This is why I spend the time arguing with myself, in writing, and asking myself why my brain isn’t letting me go ahead with the writing – because it needs to know which plan we’re following here before it will set out the tea lights in their little tin holders and illuminate the path we’ll walk.

I never get much lighting beyond what I need strictly not to tumble over roots and rocks. Then I pick my way along.

It works better for me to know – and the reader to have to guess – where we’re going. I already discard great gobs of ideas and executions which are not what I need. I can’t afford to make decisions on the fly.

I like my shiny new toy. I’ve been using an intuitive version of it for a long time, but I love having the tool be something I am conscious about, in the top tray of the toolbox. Makes it more likely that I’ll pick it up.


If you’re a writer, do you do this?

If you’re a reader, admit it – you want drama, not a smooth ride. You want that ending EARNED.


 

The point in writing with care

EVERY WRITER ANSWERS THIS QUESTION

It has become common for writers to tell other writers how to write.

Unless they are discouraging other writers deliberately to keep the competition down!

And every writer who has any control (beginners can often see only one way to do things) constantly makes choices:

  • Is this word the best word for this use?
  • Will MY readers think this is pretentious – or the reason they read ME?
  • If I use a sentence fragment as part of my style, or this particular character’s mental processes, or [select reason] – will MY readers get their panties in a twist?
  • Can my intended readers follow plot complexities?
  • And – most importantly – am I limiting myself by the way I prefer to write?

All of these are valid questions, all have to be answered regularly, all have many answers.

How to choose?

I’m asking myself these questions, as usual, because I just finished the last two scenes in a chapter, and it took me two whole days of using AutoCrit (my online editing program) to get the text the way I wanted it.

Two whole days of whatever brainpower I could muster is still a lot of hours.

And they are hard work. Choices come down to nuance, nuance to familiarity, familiarity to everything I’ve ever read – and processed.

For an example, I’ll put up a section of these scenes, and show the differences:

Sample edit from Chapter 27

There are hundreds of little changes between when I’m finished with the story and when I’m finished with the language.

Why change?

The original was fine, with nothing hugely wrong.

But I’ll find I overused a particular word or phrase.

Or a piece of dialogue doesn’t sound like the character (Cecily, like Andrew, is Irish).

In fact, just as I finished checking the above comparison, I realized I’m missing two places where my tiny intimation of the speaker being Irish is incorrect (I use ye’re – but still have you’re) – and that will be checked several more times before publication.

This section comes from Scrivener – and is missing italics. I’ll have to check to make sure those are as I want them, as discussed in a post on my stylistic choices.

I do my own editing

This is a statement of fact, not a battle-cry.

I found early that my brain is too damaged to do the negotiating, arguing, back and forth, discussing – that goes with having someone else edit your work.

And that it was easier for me to take on the task, plus it forced me to improve my bad habits immediately.

I like the control. I accept the responsibility. And the mistakes I make will get corrected asap if egregious, with the next major revision if minor.

And there isn’t an ant’s chance with an anteater that I’ll have to defend my own choices: nobody can possibly know my style better than I can.

I have the sense to use an excellent beta reader – and always pay attention to what she catches or notices (she’s usually right).

For someone like me, it even saves a lot of time (a relatively expensive commodity for me). Because I handle a single scene (up to maybe 3k) at a time, and it’s familiar to me because I just wrote it, so I don’t have to reload anything into my memory.

The pitfalls of that are obvious: the mistakes will get overlooked because they are so familiar. So I have many passes for just one thing. I have checklists. I keep a list of the things I haven’t mastered.

Nothing’s perfect, but that does get a lot of the little typo buggers.

Is it ‘good enough’?

Yes – after I put the hours, the work in.

Is it getting easier? Yes – if I still put the hours in, and the work, and don’t try to shorten the editing phase by getting impatient to finish.

I think it matters.

It does make me very slow.

I think it’s worth the effort.


Does lack of editing in published work irritate you? Do you notice it?


Thanks again to Stencil for the ability to create graphics – and their free account. If I ever need more than ten a month, I’ll get their paid subscription!


 

How to profit from a plot hole

A PLOT HOLE CAN BE AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER

And I’m not going to tell you the size or the significance of the one I just wrestled into submission. Just how.

It’s in Chapter 29 of the WIP, Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, the second volume in the trilogy, and you will have to remember this AND suss it out yourself when NETHERWORLD is available.

That’s not the point.

The point is that I’m pleased as punch with myself for finding out how to deal with one, and my struggle may save another writer some angst – and amuse readers who wonder if this ever happens and how writers deal with them.

Plot holes

It is almost impossible to invent a world – and not run into a few.

In fact, in the world I’ve built, I’ve been surprised time and time again when the plotting does work out, or a small change in a relatively unimportant date or fact renders everything copacetic again.

Because you do know writers make an awful lot of fiction up out of whole cloth, right?

No matter if ‘inspired by a book’ or idea (even fuzzier) decorates the credits of a new movie, or if ‘inspired by characters created by’ [name] is attached.

And if it did actually happen, there may even be apparent plot holes.

But if it didn’t, well, a writer does the best she can, and leaps into the void with a ribbon between her teeth attached to – a plot.

It depends on when you find the plot hole

If before you write a word, and you can’t find a way to get around it, you can dump the whole project.

But that usually entails dumping a lot of good stuff. Just with a plot hole or two in it somewhere.

However, your options are more limited if you find a reasonably-sized one (for your character’s definition of reasonable) in the middle (almost literally) of the second volume of a trilogy, and it is supporting a plot point you are not willing to change.

What to do, what to do?

First of all, OWN IT

Do not leave it there for an astute reader to find it, not if you’re planning to leave a legacy to the ages.

Readers blab. They leave reviews (if you’re very, very lucky). They tell each other. And for some reason feel they have to mention it when they recommend it: “It’s a lovely book, you know, but it could never happen because it has a few little flaws…”

And, if you’re an extreme plotter like me, it’s plausible – it’s just that it isn’t quite possible or true.

Or the author would have noticed it sooner, and taken care of it in development or plotting or outlining or the calendar or… You get the idea.

So I did what I do with a lot of problems:

I gifted it to a character

And that’s where I’m rubbing my hands with glee.

Because now the CHARACTER has to come up with a solution. And once the CHARACTER has a solution, they have to deal with the problem of whether to cough it up right away and admit they screwed up, or to keep a good and almost logical solution tucked away in their head to be used if someone else notices.

And you then get extras: You can have them get away with it – for a while.

And have it bothering them.

And then, if you’re evil enough, you can have it come up at a most inconvenient time, force them to do their little song and dance, and let another character realize they’re not being entirely truthful.

Which has been kind of delicious.

And is exactly what I mean by profiting.

My readers will tell me

If it worked.

I’m assuming most of them will not be through my gleeful blog posts about writing – I can think of nothing worse to destroy the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ than lifting the skirts and showing readers the machine under the table.

But what I’m hoping will happen is that any reader who happens to notice that little glitch will also notice that somewhere very soon, before they got too worried by it, a solution popped up to take care of the problem – and the itch is scratched.

And they hurry along, reading, to see what other little problems might crop up – as that is the way of fiction, problem/solution/problem/solution… until the final happily-ever-after, mostly, solution at the end.

So that’s what I spent the last three days on

And a couple of thousands of words in my notes.

And images and calculations and links to places where I got my data from Mr. Google.

And then this tiny little hand-polished paragraph which will get read, absorbed, and left in the reader’s wake.

After all, one must tell one’s readers the truth most of the time, so they will not notice the occasional little lie we have to sneak in – or this wouldn’t be fiction.

On to the next author problem!


If you’re a writer, have you ever had this particular little problem?

If you’re a reader, have you ever noticed this problem? What did you do?


 

 

Creating a new normal from debris

This morning, while the husband had gone to the grocery store on the URC bike to get the few things we need to supplement the dinners here, I spent a half hour singing.

With Kate Wolf, on Green Eyes.

And with Gordon Lightfoot, Sundown.

The first I had never sung; the second, I remember singing so many times back when it was new, I was in college and grad school, and had joined the Columbia Record Club, and had several of his records.

It is easy to let things slip when under a pandemic

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I sang.

Apparently, going to church on Sundays, plus starting an hour-long, twice a month folk-singing group here at URC had been enough to keep my vocal chords in working order, even tired. Each time, after an hour, I had used my voice, and it seemed okay and I was happy with the quality of the sound, happy enough not to give it another thought.

Well, it has been months since I did that kind of regular singing (forgive me, Carol, singing teacher, for not singing every day).

And when I tried to sing about a week ago, it was as if someone had stolen my vocal chords and left someone else’s unused ones in their place.

It was scary. The singing voice was almost paralyzed, and nowhere near what I had come to depend on whenever I wanted it.

So there’s one more thing I have to maintain consciously

The list is getting very long.

Every day, before I can get to sleep, I have to put all my joints through my little stretching and range of motion exercises – or I twitch so badly sleep is impossible. Literally. For hours. Lying there in bed, twitching as if hit by a cattle prod every 5-10 seconds. And now I also have to get up and eat something so my stomach will let me go to sleep.

None of this body stuff used to be my responsibility (except weight: as I’ve said many times before, I do not understand why I should have anything conscious to do with maintaining the right body weight – I don’t have to remember to breathe or make my heart beat!).

I’ve given up complaining – it doesn’t help. When I realize I’m twitching because I didn’t do my exercises, I force myself to lie there – and do them.

When I realize what has woken me up at 3am is that my blood sugar is crashing, I get up, eat a half cup of cottage cheese, and then, while my brain’s blood is diverted to digestion, quickly lie down and get back to sleep.

The demands of the body are nonnegotiable

Insistent.

Immediate.

And a pain in the neck.

But I develop another heuristic, another shortcut for dealing with the new problem, pay attention for a few days or weeks, and put it on the list of ‘things that must be done.’

And I fear when someone else must take care of me, because they’re not going to have the ability to do the necessary actions the instant I need them, and I’m going to spend a lot of my time uncomfortable and not able to do a thing about it.

What a life!

One more consequence of the lovely gift we’ve all been given is to watch it go away.

How to deal?

ME/CFS? Aging? Luck of the Irish? Who knows.

I try to let it take as little of my time and life as possible.

Not complainin’, just sayin’.

And I do whatever I need to keep writing.

While watching the appalling stuff burbling out in our society that has long been suppressed. And trying not to cry.


What is on your list? What are you in charge of that you never had to worry about before?


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create graphics that are more interesting than the words I throw into them.


 

Do the right thing while you still can

SOMEONE MIGHT NEED TO HEAR A KIND WORD

The poem Maud Miller was quoted in Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed. (1838–1915). Yale Book of American Verse.

John Greenleaf Whittier died in 1892, but his words have resonated.

There is something valuable in using the current world crisis to do things you should have done, now, before the opportunity is taken from you.

This week I wrote a ‘thank you’ letter

I have been mulling it around in my mind for months, because it had the potential of turning into something else.

I finally gave up on the ‘something else,’ which has been, and still is, an unformed request for help of an indeterminate kind.

And that was the holdup: I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to ask for, and it wasn’t clear how. Sometimes that confusion means something: don’t do it.

But eventually I realized that right now, a thank you note out of the blue, when someone is quarantined and disconnected from office routine and usual sources of affirmation, might make the day bright for a person who, through his work, has made my life easier, and my writing better.

With my slightly increased brain function and the pressure of ‘what if something happens to either of us,’ I had a moment of energy, and quickly sat down to put words to page. Added a short handwritten note (the handwriting had been held up by the damaged right shoulder – thank you notes should probably be written by hand), and sent it off.

Now every time I remember the help, I can feel good about having sent the note – instead of guilty that I should, really, and haven’t figured out what to say. It’s DONE.

This week I sent a tough letter to someone

My, how many ‘somes’ are showing up in this post!

But the writings are private, though the insight might be useful, so they cannot be replaced by proper nouns, and can’t even be granted common nouns, so you’ll just have to see if this is still useful.

One of my favorite parts of the John D. MacDonald Travis McGee stories is Meyer’s Law, which for my own purposes I usually remember as ‘Whatever the hardest thing to do is, that’s the right thing to do.’

My ability to quote correctly is legendarily bad – here’s the Google result:

John D. MacDonald — ‘In all emotional conflicts, the thing you find the most difficult to do, is the thing that you should do.–Meyer’s Law

And I am dating myself! The stories are from the 1960s!

Detour aside, this was something that, if our positions were reversed, I would have appreciated getting from the other person. But the contents were very deep, and I greatly feared adding to the other person’s pain.

But Meyer would have been proud of me: I decided it was her RIGHT to know, and that she could deal with it however she wanted to, but I couldn’t forgive myself for not giving her that choice, however painful.

I’m glad I did and she thanked me, and it will probably be the last time we ever communicate, not because of anything bad, but because the contents were the result of our two lives touching over something (here we go again with the somes) which will never happen again.

I promise not to forget, as long as I have memory. And that has to be good enough.

The results are that now I can move on

Every time in the future either topic comes to my mind – which will happen – I have closure. I did what I needed to do. The actions are in the past instead of in a vague future.

And I did the right thing.

For the reference: it hurt as much as I had expected, maybe more – and I can take it.

I see too many books now with this as their foundation

A person in the present turns out to be haunted by something they did or didn’t do in their darkest past, and the future is forever colored by avoiding the sore topic – until something explodes.

I don’t like this trend in novels – everyone has a horrible deep dark secret. An event in the present (usually a death – or a missive discovered from someone who died) results in digging into the past, and explosions ensue.

It is true that times were different before, that things that can be revealed now – a secret marriage, a child given up or adopted, a wrong to someone’s life or reputation – might have had much bigger repercussions ‘back then,’ and we’re more able to survive the revelation now than when it happened.

‘Do it now’ stops future pain – for me

But the present state of uncertainty in our real-life lives makes me hope I don’t get to the end without doing what I should have done.

I have a few more of these to clear up, and then I’ll be free of that particular kind of regret.


 

 

 

 

Testing the new block editor tentatively

Water drops. Text: How to survive Boredom. Not very well. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THEY TELL ME JUNE WILL FORCE USE OF THE NEW EDITOR

So I’ve decided to test it out while I still have room to run and scream if I don’t like it.

So far it seems very much like the old editor, except with new controls – which I don’t know yet.

I don’t even remember creating the graphic above, but it’s in my media file from my days in New Jersey, so I probably did.

I’m getting a bit more energy from my low-dose naltrexone.

ldn works differently from medicines.

It blocks opioid receptors in your brain for a couple of hours, during which your brain decides something’s wrong – and creates more of them.

This leads to more endorphins, and other things happen, so you find yourself dealing with generalized inflammation as well.

Some people even think it will help deal with the coronavirus; I’m not going to test that deliberately, and don’t know how I will tell that I have or haven’t, but it’s a good thought. Anything that helps.

I’m also getting, a lot of the time, less brain fog

This is the main reason I’m interested in it: in these thirty years I’ve had ME/CFS, I haven’t found anything I can DO to reduce brain fog, and have had to wait every day to see if my brain would kick on and be usable.

Then I’d have to make sure whatever functionality showed up that day wasn’t needed for something critical in life, which is why I did very little writing when we were moving and packing and sorting and dejunking and dealing with real estate agents (theirs) and lawyers (theirs) who didn’t do what they said they’d do or when they said they’d do it, even though the contract clearly said we could dump the whole idea if they didn’t.

My top level functionality hasn’t improved

but I think the bottom level may have come up a bit.

The most notable effect, after taking a year to slowly titrate the ldn up to the therapeutic dose, is that I seem to spend more time every day toward the higher end of the functionality my brain is capable of, and get more done in that time.

And it seems to come every day, which was something I couldn’t count on before.

In fact, I was doing prep work for today’s writing around midnight last night – something that, trust me, never happens. I’m usually dead by 8 or 9 pm, even though my brain refuses to admit it and allow sleep.

Objective measurements?

Four finished scenes in the last two weeks – absolutely unheard of.

It still takes a lot of time to do what I do, but I’m spending more time per day doing it, so it is taking fewer days to get in the necessary time.

As my friend MT would say, Woo hoo!

And other than finding it slightly annoying, I’m not having any trouble making the new block editor do exactly what the old editor did, which is a few headings, some paragraphs of text, and image or two, and

Wait a minute. Where did the categories and tags go?

There they are, under a tag ‘Document’ up at the top of the page.

So far it is twice as many steps to select a heading style for a block of text. Annoying.

There is still a link ‘Switch to Classic Editor,’ which I will use until it disappears, but this was not that hard to figure out – for my simple blogging needs.

Which I’m pretty sure won’t change until five years or so from now when they decide to edit the editor again.

Oops. WAIT. Where’s my horizontal separator line?


This exercise has taken me to the ONE UNFORGIVABLE SIN of an editor, eating my text.

The previous one SAVED everything as I wrote.

Now I have to do it manually.

VERY BAD EDITOR.


Staying comfortable in the saddle again

Section of a side view of the Rose Garden at URC showing the side exit door and some of the path

Out door – but not in right now

UNEVEN SIDEWALKS AS A CHALLENGE TO CONFIDENCE

We are on lockdown, which currently means you can go out, but not in, through all the usual exit doors in our building.

Why? So they can control who comes into our facility, and make sure they’re wearing a mask, and pass a quick health check, and I think take their temperature. Good precautions, and control of entrances is a part of that.

They’ve added a check station by the campus’ front entrance from the street, so cars and people coming in can be queried as to whether they are essential personnel, essential visitors, or not. A patrol car with a private security guy sits there, and some of our staff are in the little covered space to deal with contractors, delivery people, etc.

No enforcement possibility is necessary – it’s all voluntary, but family members are being turned away, even if they’re bringing something, most of the time.s-l500

Maggie2 is identical to Maggie

Both are black. Unobtrusive.

Maggie waits for me to find a part and a repair person.

But I found that after two months of not riding, I’ve lost confidence in my riding ability and Maggie2’s balancing ability, so I need to go out with some excuse to ride around a bit every couple of days.

Part of it is sidewalks and paths and curb cuts and cutouts: they make look smooth to an able-bodied walker with no balance problems, but they are neither truly flat nor even remotely smooth.

Sidewalks and paths are made a square or rectangle at a time, with gaps between them. When a repair is done, or a utility opening is created, the finished product is roughly smooth (an oxymoron).

I’m not a light-weight kid with the great balance of youth

There is a lot of me, and the Maggies cope, but I sometimes wonder how much of a strain it is, and how near the actual limits I might be, especially when riding outside, with up and down slopes. I don’t go near steep gradients any more, and plan my travels with slopes in mind.

But if I haven’t been in the saddle for even a couple of days, I’m ever so slightly nervous when I hop on board, such as to go down to get the mail. When trundling down the corridors, I’m conscious when I start that I’m a little unstable.

It’s like when I haven’t spoken Spanish for a while, and my sisters rattle off on the phone, and I’m expected to just jump in and participate – and I feel so awkward reaching for a noun or wondering if they still say things in a particular way.

So tonight I went for a little planned ride

Checked the battery – 3 out of 4 dots. Good.

Took the elevator down to the first floor (elevators are wobbly because they’re on cables), and headed toward the side door (in picture). Right now the entire first floor is being painted, the furniture changed, and the carpet replaced – and is covered with a layer of plastic that crinkles as we ride along.

Use the paper towel so I don’t touch any surfaces directly, from the elevator buttons to the door opening buttons first into the stairwell, and then out into the side Rose Garden.

Grit teeth – tell myself it isn’t that big of a slope out. It isn’t.

Say hello to other Resident who chooses this moment to come out with a large dog and a frisbee – and ask that they both be mindful of where I am, as I don’t want to be knocked down or startled off my perch by a vigorous dog which is aching to get some running and jumping and catching in.

Go down the path – and run into a moving van which has barely left enough room for Maggie and me to go down the sidewalk.

In through the front lobby – and check that I can get out of the building near the Skilled Nursing section. They say yes. But when I get down there, I find that the door opener doesn’t work after 5pm, but I can get out if I push the door. Push, hoping no alarms will go off.

Then around the north end of the building, in and out of the patio area, and back to the front entrance – all the while up and down slopes, on and off of sidewalks, around sharp corners (keeping the two of us in the center of the walk), around patio furniture piled willy-nilly, smelling some lovely roses, and up and down several curb cuts.

On our way back now

Check in, chat a moment, tell them the door doesn’t open automatically after 5pm., but you can still get out (front desk seems knowledgeable all the time, but the details sometimes escape them).

Chat with a few of the servers, both of us masked – we miss our dining room staff like crazy. One is excited they are moving toward reopening some of the dining venues. I tell him we are not: no cure, no treatment, no increased hospital capacity, no vaccine – and exhausted medical personnel. We’ll probably stay in much longer than strictly necessary.

Pick up the mail. Chat with another Resident (I have to keep backing up). She’s hoping the path from hospital (starting in December, not covid-19 related) to Skilled Nursing and now to Assisted Living is only temporary, and that she’ll be able to go back to her Independent Living unit. I tell her I hope so, and want to know – I will be resisting the Assisted Living part in a similar situation unless I’m sure it’s reversible if I can handle it.

Zoom up the corridors, reverse the elevator ride – and husband say: “That was a short ride!”

Decontaminate

Put mail away, put everything back in its place, being very conscious of what might have touched a surface outside the apartment, stabling Maggie2, and washing hands twice, thoroughly, during the process.

And we’re home!

I regained my comfort, mostly, with riding. I’m glad I included time outside and with challenges – they were a bit scary and got better on the circuit. Other people commented on how smoothly we move – and I didn’t disavow the prowess.

But I know.

And that’s all the excitement of the quarantine/isolation at the CCRC today. Absorbing, eh? And reset the brain by seeing other humans (I haven’t been out much otherwise), and talking to them.

Until next time.

Tomorrow is trike ride day.

These things seem and are trivial, but they’re also important to do for psychological welfare, especially since we’re going to be at this a long time.


Stay well.

Writing persists, though right now it seems to be taking me 5-6 hours to get that brain to come on every day. I am well into becoming Andrew to write the next scene, after days of gathering.

That’s all I ask for.

Hope everyone out there is staying safe. Or recovering. I know some are not, and still have trouble some days believing the whole disaster.

“Another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” Yup. Part of the week’s research included watching that used in a whole bunch of their movies. And yes, that quote is accurate. Memory is funny.


 

My writing is a walk through a minefield

I AM ALWAYS MY OWN FIRST READER

One piece of advice to writers I’ve always followed is to “Write the book you want to read and that you can’t find.”

I guess as a writer I’m looking for the readers who FEEL the way I feel.

I’m having trouble finding more of them because WE tend to hide our feelings as too intense, too troubling, too deep – and are much less likely to discuss those feelings with other people as we recommend a book.

It is too close.

I am not my characters, and my characters are NOT me.

Because, if anything, there are significant parts of me I’ve consulted when writing all three of the main characters in Pride’s Children PURGATORY, and now Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Readers know what it’s like to be inhabited by warring camps, typically portrayed in cartoons by a little angel over one shoulder, and a little devil over the other.

I contain multitudes.

But I AM an actor

The training, and the thinking, and the practice come in very handy when you have to split parts of yourself off for a character – and maintain some distance from your self.

I’m sure you can’t play Macbeth without finding justifications for killing your king.

So, before you go traipsing through one of my scenes, I have to do the hard work of feeling my way from the First Line to the Last Line, so that it is smooth and satisfying for a reader who goes that way but once.

It’s part of what makes me slow.

Adrenaline is hard for my body to process – and all hormones are big parts of the emotional states that accompany their surges through the bloodstreams of humans.

I have to feel more than usual, and have a smaller capacity for recovering from the emotional hormones, than most people.

You have to get very close to emotions to write them.

Yesterday, as research for the next chapter in NETHERWORLD, I had to go through, over and over, a part of life that, as a married woman who just celebrated 45 years with her first and only husband, was very far behind me.

No one knows the future – it could be useful in some cases, but I’m hoping I won’t need what I went through yesterday, because, as all important decisions, it was exhausting!

And I can’t stop writing these sections until I can recreate that on the page, in words, first in myself, and then, with some degree of certainty, in both men and women.

Models in literature

I had myself wondering today how close Margaret Mitchell got to Scarlett O’Hara, or Charlotte Brontë to her Jane.

I’m not sure Mitchell was fond of Scarlett – Scarlett and my Bianca have a lot in common – and Mitchell gave Scarlett no HEA: she prevailed, but her victory was Pyrrhic at best: never being hungry again is pretty low on the hierarchy of needs.

I take some of my examples from Dorothy L. Sayers, who at least left Harriet and Peter happy and married, but made them work very hard for that win: the hard work is, to me, essential to the outcome.

I don’t take shortcuts.

All of this may make more sense when the next book comes out, if you’re one of the clan.

I hope you are.

When this is all over, I’d love to talk about it. Right now I’m too raw.


If you haven’t read PURGATORY, and do so now, you’ll have a much better idea of what I’m talking about – as well as an appreciation for why it took so long. I had to learn to do the writing/feeling connection – and do it in EVERY scene.


Drop a line if you have any idea what I’m saying. It gets lonely out here.


 

The mainstream literary pleasure of highly literate readers.

STUCK WITH THEIR HEAD IN A BOOK

That’s where the young readers are, when they can get away with it. I was.

I kept books in three locations in our house in Mexico City, and snuck around so my mother wouldn’t find me and want me to do something – but I always had a book. In English. Of what was around the house, including my parents’ collection of the Great Books (only the half I liked) plus the James Bond novels and such my father brought home from business trips..

It is like an addiction, pouring words into your head.

Many people learn the pleasure of reading later – and do perfectly fine with it. But there is a subset of humans who are bookworms from a young age, and once they discover the printed word, can’t get enough of it.

My readers tend to be in that group.

Figuring out words in context is a big part of that

If you read material that is probably too hard for you, you’re going to run into words you’ve never seen before. That’s when the vocabulary starts to build: you don’t understand the sentence a word is in until you have some tentative meaning for the word, so you guess, store it away as a ‘possible,’ and move on with the story.

Do this enough times, and that word will get its meaning altered a tiny bit each time you run into it, because each place you see it will give it context, and eventually most words will have a complex meaning that settles pretty close to what you’d find in a dictionary.

Or you could ask someone (mom, teacher…) or look it up, and nowadays touch it on your Kindle and have the meaning pop up, but all those things take more time and interrupt the flow of the story, so many of us reserved that for rare occasions, and just kept reading.

The literary mainstream novel

English is an incredibly rich language (we steal anything we don’t have, and, voilà, it’s English now), and I can find the perfect word for most applications – with the nuances I’m looking for.

My readers don’t need anything explained: they either know it already, or they will be fine figuring it out in context.

Mind you, I’m not looking for the truly ‘literary’ one-of-a-kind only an English professor would know them words.

Just the words that I’ve acquired from all those books I’ve read – without paying specific attention.

The only ‘class’ I’ve ever taken in ‘English’ was the Freshman English course I took when I transferred as a junior from UNAM in Mexico City to Seattle U., which it turned out later I didn’t need to take.

That class also got me to write the only term paper I ever wrote, something wild about the psychological significance of Wuthering Heights, and for which I immersed myself in the literary criticism journals at the SU library, which had articles such as ‘The Window Motif in …’

I had fun, I got an A+, and never before or since was exposed to language that way.

I am not a literary writer; I’d have to have an entirely different background for that, and it wasn’t my path as a physicist. At this stuff, I’m an autodidact. They’re at an entirely different level.

Pride’s Children is just where it all came to roost.

They said, “Write the novel you want to read, and can’t find.”

‘They’ were right. It has been great fun just letting a novel be what I wanted it to be, and using everything stored in my very odd and now damaged brain exactly the way I want to.

And my readers like it!

That’s such a charge.

Here are some of those words from Chapter 27 of Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD, which I just finished writing, and am now polishing up to send to Rachel, my wonderful – and omnivorously trained like me – beta reader. AutoCrit, my editing assistant software, flagged them as ‘uncommon in general fiction.’

  • interlocutress
  • verandah
  • malevolence
  • illusory
  • epigraphs
  • attribution
  • obeisance
  • dopamine
  • quintessence
  • scrupulous
  • galvanized
  • volition
  • tableau
  • pragmatist
  • modus operandi
  • bafflegab
  • choreographed
  • Janus
  • excoriated
  • impeccable
  • preternatural
  • demotion
  • demonstrably
  • asunder
  • pique
  • bawdy
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • pachyderm
  • impunity
  • wafting

Not really that tricky, are they?

But you don’t hear them much, and they like to get some attention, too.


Thanks again to Stencil, which allows me to create graphics with very little effort – and wonderful photos. When I need more than a few a month, I will definitely get their paying version. Meanwhile, I mention them here every once in a while, in case others need the same capacity.


 

The enervation of being unable to plan

IT FEELS LIKE A BLANKET OF LEAD

I signed up to refresh my French at Duolingo.

Every day they nag me to do the 5 minutes I signed up for.

I usually do more once I get there, but it is like lifting boulders to get myself over there and start.

Yes, I will look back when this is over (assuming I survive), and wish I had spent my time better, but…

But…

I will be better once my head clears.

Two days ago, I was struggling with a scene. This is normal for me: they don’t come easy, but I don’t care – it’s work I love.

Getting started writing every day requires a brain, and I struggle for hours most days trying to find something (other than time) which will encourage that brain to turn on.

And yes, I’ve tried writing when the brain isn’t on – pretty similar to making mudpies, for all the results.

Back to the point:

Two days ago I had a reasonable working day, got half the current scene into shape.

Yesterday, after two days of NOT riding the trike, I decided I had better get out there before I start making monkey noises, and went for a short trike ride around the greenway.

Except that we’re into a hot week, which means I can’t even go down to the garage to hop on the trike after about noon – because the garage is so hot I can’t function.

So it had to be in the morning.

And riding in the morning meant I was severely brain fogged the rest of the day, and could simply NOT focus.

I haven’t had carbs in days

Eating carbs usually results in me being brain fogged until the residue is out of my body, and I’m once more working on fat and protein. I haven’t been as strict with myself in the past, and it is REALLY hard not to have the only good dessert the dining staff sends in a week – after all, food is our only comfort provided by the facility now, and the lack of choice is getting me down.

But I’ve made the effort, and I can’t blame the current situation on carbs.

Today is merely the result of yesterday’s trike ride, as was all of yesterday afternoon and evening: having ME/CFS MEANS there is no way to get the energy back.

Not being able to do anything is also a sign of depression

in normal people.

We’re used to it, but I have to ask myself if I’ve let the situation and my limitations bump me into that territory.

And then I have a day in which no interruptions occur, and I keep my nose to the grindstone until it finally sharpens enough to write with, and I know it’s not discipline – it’s the disease.

What it is is a sign that I can’t expect to get a writing period on a day I go out for a mentally-necessary trike ride, which is in itself frustrating.

I can’t plan around it.

There is no plan C. I ride OR I write. And if I go longer than a day or two without writing, my brain seems to think we are doing something new, with all the Resistance to starting that comes with new things.

If you wonder why it takes me so long, that’s part of it.

The pandemic is just more of the same. A lot more.

Don’t worry about me, because I’m still doing this: there isn’t anything else.

But it gets pretty frustrating each day to have all this time – and not be able to plan or to count on myself. For purely physical reasons I can’t control.

I just hope I finish these books before the virus gets me.

Oh, and put on the list somewhere the end of the story – for those who might care – if I don’t make it.

Can’t plan that, either. Making it.


It’s hard writing one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in the novel from a place of such flat affect. The first half is great (IHNVHO), but I want the second half to hit you in the gut, too.

So no trike ride for me.


 

Scene not working? Change something MAJOR

NOVEL SCENES HAVE A PURPOSE

They are not just ‘something that happens next.’

There are many different ways to accomplish that purpose, but there’s a tendency, as a writer, to have things happen in a particular way, and to have that way get stuck in the chute.

The more things a scene needs to accomplish, the longer it may end up needing to be.

But writers’ brains have the same habit of getting stuck behind the wrong idea as any other brain. And maybe my ME/CFS brain does this more than most writers’ brains because change is so difficult for me.

When it isn’t gelling

So the first thing to do when a scene isn’t writing itself, after a reasonable amount of time expended trying, is to separate the essentials from the window dressing, and consider finding a different way entirely to enact the required elements – and change the window dressing to something else entirely.

A scene could be huge, with many characters interacting.

Or a scene can be small and intimate, or small and intimate within a chaotic outer setting, or the kind of scene where it isn’t until the end that you realize a whole bunch of things have come together.

A paced novel will have all kinds of scenes, to avoid monotony, to keep the feeling of surprise and discovery going.

But few scenes have only ONE way to accomplish their task.

When I started writing this post, I had just made a deceptively small change – the hour of the scene went from 4pm to 8pm – taking it from mid-afternoon to sunset – and was able to unstick a line of attack completely. The number of participants also dropped – from crowd scene to two principals.

Lawrence Block says that when things get stuck and you don’t know what to do next, you should bring in a man with a gun.

That’s a pantser’s move.

I’m an extreme plotter, so that’s not really an option.

But one of my writing guides, Armando Saldaña Mora’s Dramatica for Screenwriters has a whole section on how to change the scope and size of a scene, and still accomplish that scene’s purpose. Which is the real advantage of my kind of plotting, where everything has a place.

Changing a scene completely is often a budget move for movies

If the purpose is for the Protagonist to say goodbye to the Antagonist, say, the scene can be large and showy and done in front of hundreds of extras – or it can be small and intense and private and done in the back seat of a taxi (“I coulda been a contender” speech, Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront). Where the taxi isn’t even really moving.

It is something only the novelist will know in a novel, where words themselves are relatively cheap, even if producing them costs blood: was this scene completely different at any point before publishing?

Changing the scene in NETHERWORLD

You don’t have to choose between ‘telling’ and ‘showing’ a scene; there is more than one way to ‘show.

The original scene was going to happen while ON the set of Opium, filming in India, where the main character would watch the filming for an hour or so, and then form her own conclusions about the undercurrents in the cast.

It works much better without the actual filming being observed, and the scene purpose is fulfilled in an even more intense way. Since the details of filming were background in PURGATORY, the reader gets the idea – and I don’t have to repeat it.

The result:

  • An unstuck scene
  • A better scene
  • A scene between two main characters, instead of one with many to track
  • Advancing the plot
  • Better dynamics
  • Definitely better dialogue

So if it isn’t working, and you’ve spent enough time that it should have gelled by now: consider that you can use a lot of what you already figured out – but reframe how the reader is going to learn what you need the reader to know.

Be bold; try something different.


Really different.

Have you done this?


 

The tiny start of each new day

WE HAVE IT EVERY DAY

I realize it’s become a little routine, getting going in the mornings as efficiently as possible, so I’m recording it to laugh at in the future.

Mind, this is me ALWAYS – and has little or nothing to do with the coronavirus.

It might amuse you.

There are many steps (beyond the obvious first one):

  1. Find brain – it’s in there somewhere
  2. Do anything that absolutely must be done before you even turn the computer on.
  3. Turn on the lamp in the corner from the switch by the door.
  4. Say my morning prayers – even though I rarely remember the promises I made.
  5. Turn the overhead light on from the control on desk I can reach from the bed.
  6. Move to the desk chair.
  7. Turn the big monitor on – and make sure the switch goes to blue (behind PostIt so it doesn’t affect my sleep by being too bright).
  8. Lift the lid to the Macbook. While waiting for the screens to come back,
  9. Reach for phone, and plug it into the charger (I don’t charge overnight because I need it for a clock in the middle of the night, and a flashlight)
  10. Critical: reach down and turn the power strip with the two bright green lights ON
  11. Now it’s okay to turn the desk lamp on (with a touch).
  12. Open the venetian blinds and the shade to let the light in.
  13. Pills: take morning ones, set the later ones out.
  14. Check the email.

The reason for waiting to do 11. until 10. is done is that I keep forgetting to do it – until my Macbook suddenly shuts itself off and goes blank.

And when I look, and the two green lights are NOT on, I realize I forgot – and the battery went to as close to zero as the Mac allows, and I DID IT AGAIN!

So I’ve linked them deliberately.

After that come the optionals:

  • Diet Coke #1.
  • Breakfast (but that can wait for hours if the brain is on and I want to try using it first).
  • Water and ice for the HydroFlask tumbler I sip from all day long. Cold!
  • Facebook, quick answers to anyone who seems to want one.
  • The Washington Post, and The New York Times – quick scan.
  • Load up a page of sudokus – hard – for when I block the internet.
  • Check the calendar.
  • Check the To Do list – maybe – not good with that; stuff gets done, but not in an organized manner. Occasionally, clean the list, remove stuff already done.
  • Extra Vitamin C? Extra painkillers? Extra liquid B12?
  • Checking if any books have sold on Amazon overnight, or the nice person who took it out of KU has read any more pages.
  • Check The Passive Voice and Writer Unboxed; comment if I feel like it.
  • Think whether it’s been long enough that I should consider watering the twin coffee plants and the flowery thing.
  • Open the living room blinds that let me see out from my office past the living room, somewhere into the distance.

And finally, if I have any energy left at this point,

think about what I might need to accomplish today.

Think about adding an energy-draining shower to the list for today.

Including whether I both need and can afford to take a short trike ride for mental health and a tiny bit of exercise, like today – if so, try to remember the ritual associated with that now – from taking the cellphone and the locator bracelet for emergencies, and the keys, and the backpack, and water…

There you have it – boring as all get out, so I try to do it quickly, so I can go on to procrastinating from writing by thinking about writing.

Oh, and worry about the coronavirus, COVID-19,

and whether we’re still going to be safe, here in our total lockdown at the CCRC.

But that one goes without saying.

All this is so I can get to the real reason for getting out of bed:

  • Working on the current/next scene in Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD.

Which is coming along very nicely.


Do you find yourself doing the same list of heuristics every morning in the same order and playing a game with yourself to see how fast you can get past it?


 

Creating a roadmap for scene arcs

I’ve done this before – and didn’t realize it actually needs to be a ‘thing,’ a part of my regular writing ‘process.’

Most of the time, my plotting assigns all kinds of details to scenes, leaving the actual writing to when I get that far in the list of scenes, as I work one at a time until it’s finished.

So I can concentrate on writing one scene, one little visual polished bit, at a time, knowing that the scene will fit into the story like a jewel into a necklace.

But a scene can be too small an entity to work with when the story arc needs several scenes to tell a part of the story, during which point of view will shift in each scene (I stick religiously to a single pov per scene), but the story will continue, and, if I’m skillful enough, the reader won’t notice the patchwork quilt squares, but only the whole.

IF my plotting is good enough initially, and thought out in enough detail, I can trundle along, scene by scene, and the bits will connect.

But when the plotting was changed in the great 2007 reorganization?

Then I was forced to make some large decisions and some fine grained decisions about what would go where of all the bits in the story, and some of those details were tentatively assigned to a scene, or a point of view character, and I knew I would have to rearrange some of the bits when I got there.

I’ve done the several-scene roadmap idea more than once before. The first three chapters of Purgatory, for example, are all about the Night Talk show where two of the main characters meet in New York, while the third main character watches the show from Los Angeles.

So I’ve worked with the concept before, that plotting can have arcs even within the larger story, but I never stopped to formalize that for myself.

It’s a lot of work

I think of it as fractal in nature: pick a scope – sentence, paragraph, beat, scene,… and plot first, then write – and the dialogue will happen, the interior monologues will support it, because we all know where we’re going, together.

Sometimes a film director will allow actors to improvise – but it is always within the director’s (and the script’s) larger vision of the whole. Within that whole, individual pieces can be executed in many ways, but all have to serve the story. Or they will have to be expunged (kill your darlings) from the final product, which will otherwise be a mess.

But for extreme plotters like I am, breaking up the process, and doing the structure solidly FIRST, allows me to just write when I get there, to listen to the characters in my mind, and write down what they say, because I’ve given them the setup – and the writing part of my brain seems to have a mind of its own.

Back to my skyscraper analogy

Get the plumbing and the elevators and the water lines and the steel structure right first – or the sewage from the 29th floor won’t proceed to the treatment plant, and the first time someone flushes up there won’t be pretty for those on the 28th floor.

But after that, interior walls may have some variation (as long as they aren’t load-bearing), so that one floor can have a large open conference room where the floor directly above has offices or apartments. That is my roadmap idea. Within the plan for a whole building, there can be individual floor designs – followed by the decorating (writing) of the individual rooms which is the ultimate purpose of the skyscraper – interior spaces of all kinds and sizes within the plan.

Sometimes I can plan a whole building at a time, others a floor at a go, sometimes just one room, and sometimes a perfect grouping of furniture before the fireplace where we will sit and talk.

And the roadmap part?

Think of the roadmap as linear, while the floorplan of a skyscraper’s floor is 2D, and the building itself is 3D.

The ROADMAP allows you to visit every room on each floor – in a particular order, the one chosen by the storyteller.

Think of it: the last time you let a Real Estate Agent show you a dwelling, did they arrange your tour so you ended up in the perfect room? The one the agent knew would close the deal?

The ROADMAP is how I get you where I want you, the Reader, to go.

I work and plan and think and manipulate – so you will say wow.

The whole idea is to tell the story for YOUR pleasure – and for that you have to let me be dramatic, and show you everything in an order I hope you will like.


Just when you think your writing process is a lock – there’s something more to write ABOUT it. For me, it’s one more thing nailed down that I won’t forget to do because my brain isn’t working.

It’s an interesting way to work, with a limited brain as my tool.