Category Archives: Short posts

Finding readers who must be yours

DEMOGRAPHICS IS NOT THE WAY TO YOUR FANS

I HAVE BEEN WRACKING MY BRAIN since I got the idea for Pride’s Children. In the year 2000.

Because marketing is consumed by demographics – to women of a certain age and income; to children; to men who own pickup trucks.

From SnapSurveys:

Demographics are characteristics of a population. Characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, education, profession, occupation, income level, and marital status, are all typical examples of demographics that are used in surveys.
Mar 12, 2012
Birds of a feather flock together.

I need a different kind of marker

Something that has to do with the kind of reader people are, and the type of books they pick on their own.

When I get the chance to ask, my readers usually have some of the following features:

  • They have read a lot, starting in childhood
  • They have read classics – for pleasure – and were not forced to; books such as Jane Eyre and A Christmas Carol and Pride and Prejudice
  • They’ve read good contemporary books of their times – Rebecca and The Thorn Birds and Gone With the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird and The Complete Sherlock Holmes
  •  Their repertoire often includes good SF and Fantasy, such as The Lord of the Rings and Dune and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and On the Beach

But some of my best reviews have come from older men, and some of my best readers are young women, and my incredibly supportive fan is Marian Allen who is in my general age group.

How on Earth do you call that a demographic?

There are hints

One reader told me he had learned a lot about himself, and would be rereading.

Another has told me he was surprised to be pulled in.

Others have mentioned liking my writing.

Someone wrote:

you have managed the best instance of “the story is not finished, but this segment of it feels finished” that I have ever encountered

Many start, and put it off because they find a density they want to read slowly – and I wonder if they ever get back.

My return visit had me entrapped in Prides Children and I haven’t GOT TIME, but maybe just a little more…supper time… must go…one more section… but just wanted to say its VERY GOOD, and what an ironic and sharp eye you have for le mot juste, and the silence pregnant. Very enjoyable, no sign of the damaged mind but I resonate strongly with your main character’s memory lapses and undefined connections of perfect lucidity once connected for the more lumpen Elise! I have not yet reached her TV appearance but it beckons. [italics mine – the TV appearance is very early in PURGATORY!]

I poke at it with the damaged mind

I wonder why there hasn’t been more recommending to friends who read.

I wonder when Elena Ferrante’s mystique is debunked, and suddenly her work isn’t as good.

I wonder when there should be a niche for disabled/chronically ill authors, with a little bit of slack from the establishment – and they tell me they are not taking indie self-published authors, while there are few in the category who get published by the traditional publishers. A pro bono approach I could submit to.

I wonder when I watch younger, healthier authors putting gobs of time into keywords and marketing and boxed sets and book magnets and publishing more books – and there is no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks I can do any of that.

In this, my model, if you like, is John Kennedy Toole, who didn’t do any of that, because he was dead. A Confederacy of Dunces was pushed by his mother after he died by suicide, and won a Pulitzer after it attracted (was forced onto) the attentions of an influential writer, Walker Percy.

I need a Mentor, an Influencer, someone with a Voice

And haven’t a clue how to get one.

I need to ‘go viral,’ when that is as intangible as you can get.

I need to do only the writing, and am told over and over that all authors want this, and should get off their duffs.

I think I would do a great deal better on the writing side if I had some confidence in ideas which might pan out – and that I could actually do.

I listen, I learn, I think. I follow, I read, I think more.

I’ll figure it out – or literally die trying. Morbid? Realistic?

I’ve started a hundred tiny brush fires, at great expense in time and effort. One of these days, one will burn down the fences.

And if you’re in one of my categories – or can add to that list – please let me know.


Thanks to Stencil for the ability to make graphics.

Also let me know if WordPress is causing you grief by putting in ads; supposedly the ones on a desktop go below the posts, but I understand the ones to mobiles can be intrusive.

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As close as writing can get

FICTION IS BUT BLACK AND WHITE DOTS

We are getting spoiled by high resolution. Actors now have to worry that every pore is visible to the folks at home. Photos take a lot of storage space – megabytes – because we can, and because we have Terabyte hard drives.

Most of us will never have occasion to use that detail, and we don’t want to write books that are that high resolution, either. Among other problems, they would take forever to read!


From November 12, 2012:

Digitizing reality: the fictive approximation

Even in the most connected and most fluid writing, choices have to be made. Which sentence follows which, which word is best. The basic principle of fiction is that reality cannot be duplicated, merely suggested.

When a painter uses a few strokes of red to suggest a roof, she must trust that the viewer will infer internal beams, two-by-fours, and nails to support that roof from the fact that the roof does not fall. Worse, even ‘fall’ is a suggestion: the painter does not ‘do’ gravity: the unsupported roof will not slide off the bottom of the page when the canvas is hung.

Reality is fine-grained

Reality consists of unimaginable numbers of tiny events, linked together by time, infinitely stretching in all directions. Fiction picks the stars in the skies as points, leaves us to connect the stars with planets, deep-space debris, and light.

So it doesn’t really matter which points are chosen, in some sense, because the same writer, on the same day, could select an entirely different set, and still tell the same story.

Beginners to digitization are astounded at how few black and white pixels it takes to express the iconic Abraham Lincoln. But even those few points are a random choice, because starting at each of a million different points, there are a million similar-but-not-identical digital Lincolns.

But what level of detail is REQUIRED for fiction?

It is only necessary to cover enough of the central story, at the chosen level of detail. “Wedding dress for sale. Never worn.” is in some sense exactly the same as “Great Expectations.”

What a writer strikes for is balance. For each type of story there are conventions, rough guidelines. An action thriller which spends half of its 300,000 words in interior monologue of its twisted dark protagonist is a deliberate contravention of the genre’s best-selling exemplars. It CAN be done, but must be written exceedingly well, and even then the audience for it will not be all thriller readers – because most of them want taut action-packed, skimpy-on-details, fast-paced writing with its interior monologue limited to “They killed my wife and child and now they will pay.”

Possibly, if done well, the audience will broaden to include readers who like longer stories, who appreciate the extra background, the crossover effect. A gamble. Done deliberately and competently and in a controlled manner, it may pay off. May.

How do you sketch a good-enough approximation?

I come by these thoughts today free of charge as a short scene–which had completely halted progress for over a month–suddenly resolved and melted into ink on page. I stopped trying to find better words to do what I was doing. I realized the words already there were a good digitization of the reality I was trying to portray–and that there is not a single perfect version of this scene which I have to locate somewhere out in the ether.

Life, complicated, millions-of-tiny-pieces life, had been getting in the way. I’m amazed at how few words needed changing, how few words I needed to add to what I already had. It is a good-enough version of the story reality. It isn’t missing any key pieces.

Time limits how much a character can do, say, or think

Finally, I could experience it from the inside of the head of the character whose point of view it was. In a few places, I added what she thought and felt to what she experienced–just a few touches restored that sense of balance.

I changed the places where I showed through: where her words would be different from mine, I chose hers. Mine were better–hers were hers. She comes from a part of me I disallow sometimes, with my over-educated, over-read self-image. She WANTED–in a way I rarely allow myself any more. I let her speak instead of censoring her–and the scene finished itself.


I love writing, because I get to choose the level of detail needed to tell the story my way.

My happiest readers will be those who like my granularity, somewhere between Hemingway and Rosamund Pilcher (or worse, Proust), whose brain needs the same distance from the subject. And it doesn’t hurt if they like my stories.

How much detail do you need?

Lessons from writing a play still hold

TO TEACH A NOVELIST DIALOGUE

One of the better oldies, condensing several years of learning into a single post – and a much better sense of how to do dialogue.


From November 16, 2012:

For better dialogue in fiction: write a play

When you can’t depend on interior monologue to get your point across, you lose a huge advantage. As a writer of fiction, you can either be blatant (He felt like death.) or subtle (He remembered med school: learning all the ramifications of the vagus nerve, enervating myriads of gastric components and pathways, useless for pinpointing the source of trouble in his gut, useful only to prove something, somewhere, thought it was wrong. But he’d never expected to feel so many of them. Simultaneously.) when using interior monologue, deep or distant.

But you get to choose.

As a playwright, you work with action and dialogue. Period. And have collaborators – actors and directors – who may aid you or may fight you, but whom you don’t control.

Tradition in the theater preserves the playwright’s absolute control over the dialogue, the WORDS. Many actors and directors will routinely cross out stage directions and the author’s parenthetical instructions on HOW to say a line or move about on stage, but they will not change a WORD of the dialogue.

Even in an adaptation of the play ‘Mary Stuart’ in high school, in SPANISH (I was Queen Elizabeth I, the actual lead – whee!), our director limited himself to crossing out large amounts of dialogue (the play was too long for us), and making the tiniest transitions where absolutely necessary. He would not change the translator’s version of the WORDS.

This is an absolute gift for novelists.

I urge every novelist to go out and write a play*.

Buy yourself $100 worth of playwriting books (buy – so you can write in them). Swallow them whole. Pick a visual story. Write the darned thing (maybe I’ll get back to the how in a later post).

And learn to live within the constraints of the form: you tell your story in the DIALOGUE you give your characters.

Oh, all right. You also have setting, and choosing WHICH of your characters are on stage at a given time, and stage/dialogue parenthetical directions.

But DIALOGUE is your main weapon.

And your written dialogue in your fiction gets much better.

You shouldn’t do ‘talking heads’ or ‘As you know, Bob’ dialogue, any more than you should do it in a novel – doing so demonstrates a distinct lack of technical skills.

It’s “I’m going to paint the Mona Lisa with BOTH hands tied behind my back, using only this paintbrush clenched in my teeth.” Because that’s what it feels like when you start.

But it CAN be done. It’s been done since the beginning of time. It can be done WITHOUT a narrator to gum up the works. And it can be done so the audience feels like eavesdroppers, watching something real happening right in front of them, right now.

Heady stuff. Ask full-time playwrights. Ask actors and directors.

Dialogue in plays is elliptical

(not the shape – the punctuation mark), at cross purposes, full of innuendo and half-said things. And lies. Lots of lies. But it must tell the story or you are merely doing pantomime. It has to add up. The WORDS matter.

And that is precisely its value for writing the dialogue – and telling the story – in fiction: it has to add up.

Doing it with time constraints – on stage – leads to the most economical method of telling a story, the fewest words. Doing it on stage, intended for a live audience which gets BORED and restless within seconds if the pieces of story it is receiving do not add up immediately, is like boot camp for dialogue.

The audience can neither skip ahead nor go back to review something unclear. And it won’t like being bored. So you learn to leave nothing out, and put nothing extraneous in.

Audiences want stories to make sense, pronto, and continuously.

So you learn to feed them the story in bite-size pieces, story beats, so they can put the whole thing together in their heads and follow.

It is an awesome discipline to acquire – and the results, in terms of the ability to do good dialogue in fiction, are equally awesome, so much so that stripping a scene I’m editing down to ONLY the dialogue, and walking through it as if I expected it to be performed on stage, is now one of the basic steps in my process, and a step that often shows exactly where the flaws are.

—–
* CAUTION: Even though they share similarities, movie scripts and plays are ENTIRELY different beasts. I don’t recommend (unless scriptwriting is your form and dream) writing a movie script unless you are a masochist: EVERYTHING is up for grabs in a movie, and even the actors have no compunction about slaughtering your words.


When a scene isn’t going well, sometimes I just tell it in dueling dialogue – and then go back and see more of the setting and work on the pace.

Another real advantage is that, with pure dialogue, you can actually change the point of view character, and then fill the scene in from that character’s perspective. Nifty if you’re not sure whose scene it needs to be (I’ve changed perspectives in many scenes).

Have you written a play?

Stories promise more than they deliver

Reflect reality

I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE TELLING PRETTY STORIES

There is no direct correlation between the most detailed, elaborate story you can tell – and the ‘real life’ it may be based on.

We know that – and ignore it – every time we read, and not just read fiction.

Choices are made. Real life is edited – to make more sense. To make any sense at all.

Even the language we use for stories has too many choices.

But the core? Is the core something worth while?

Most writers don’t even ask themselves this question; they just start writing.

But I had a period when I wondered if it was somehow wrong to tell tales that couldn’t be true, could never happen.

Duplicate oldies!

I was surprised to find I had boosted the same old post twice in less than a month. Clearly, I need to remember what I’ve done – and keep track better!

I’ll do another Oldie but Goodie soon – and put the actual date instead of an approximate one in the heading.

Let me get some sleep, some bloodwork, and some writing done first tomorrow. Sigh.


Can you relate to imperfect characters?

HOW FAR MUST YOU MORPH?

Readers have always been able to switch gender; well, female readers have often had to – there wasn’t much to read with positive heroines when I was growing up, not in popular fiction – it’s amazing the number of women scientists who pay tribute to Nancy Drew in their background!

I’m sure the number is dropping, because there are more role models, and some writers deliberately create unrealistically powerful young women as characters, hoping to up the ante. (Yes, I’m perfectly aware of all the advances made in opportunities for women; but that the situation for women in physics, for example, is not much different from what it was in the 1970s when I was in grad school.)

The ability to imagine yourself as a shape-shifter or an alien is part of being a reader – and even more important when a lot of the characters are not like you.

Diversity is the Holy Grail

Though more honored in the breach than in the observance, still.

And readers are only willing to go so far before they’re not interested, requiring a modicum of something they can identify with.


Which brings up a post from late 2012:

Does your character make readers uncomfortable?

When I set out to tell the story of Pride’s Children, I was originally driven by a sense of the unfairness of society toward those who have most need of its kindness.

Specifically, your DISABLED character?

There are two USUAL ways to deal with disability in a character: as a decoration or as a problem.

The first – a ‘feature’ of a character – gets mentioned every once in a while, but doesn’t seem to stop the character from doing most of the things ‘normal’ able people do. And it mostly leads that character to be a secondary character, a sidekick, the ‘friend in the wheelchair.’

The second leads to ‘inspiration p0rn’ (avoiding search engine problems here), and the solving of the ‘problem’ consumes the space dedicated to the story, with inspirational results – problem solved – or, sometimes, the character’s death (in a disturbing trend, by suicide while making life easier for those left behind).

Ignore the fact that suicide has a horrible effect on the people left behind. Most of us know of someone close to whom that has happened, and know they would do almost anything if they could go back in time and help.

Disabilities in real life

Disabilities are far more abundant than people think. If you count all disabilities – and I do, of course – estimates run over 20%. Don’t forget the invisible ones: FM, mental health issues, pain, CFS, non-visible genetic ‘abnormalities,’ a thousand things that make life difficult for the disabled person, but generate wrath in observers who watch them use the handicap parking space. Don’t forget old age and its common memory and mobility problems.

The counting is made difficult because of a human tendency to hide problems if it is at all possible, so you will not be ‘different’ or ‘other,’ and attract unwanted attention. Presumably there was some evolutionary benefit to getting rid of tribe members who would slow you down when your tribe was in the hunter/gatherer phase (a rather long time ago).

We ‘pass’ for normal/able as long as we possibly can, which also makes us suddenly appear very disabled when we can’t pretend any more.

Animals do it, too – everyone knows of a pet who didn’t let its owner know something was wrong until it was far too late to help. Wild animals do it so as not to appear vulnerable, as the weak and the sick are noted as easy prey.

But there is a different way for a writer: reality

I have taken the step of writing a disabled MAIN character, with a significant disability, which she ignores as much as possible, and bows to when inevitable.

For this disabled character, writing is a job – and she’s been successful at it, very slowly – and by staying hidden from the world.

An Amazon reviewer:

…while much of the plot centers on the cautious romance, Pride’s Children is also about a writer’s way of interacting with the world, living with a chronic condition (CFS – … I realized that I couldn’t think of any book I’d read, recently, involving a character with a disability or chronic illness – a significant hole in terms of diversity), and the struggle to remain balanced and kind when new people and routines enter one’s carefully-ordered sanctuary…

Disability is a learning experience

Those who are or become disabled have a steep learning curve: everything is harder. Moving, learning, thinking, being independent, even making new friends – all these are more difficult the farther a character is from the norm.

And the effects are interwoven: difficulty reading means trouble holding a job, getting to that job on public transportation or by learning to drive. No disability is purely one thing you cannot do.

There are few disabled characters in fiction (which is why they stand out) because writing them is extra effort. It’s easier to write about kickass heroes and heroines who tough it out through thick and thin and keep on ticking.

Just tonight we watched, in the same show, a character get stabbed in the back by an enormous kitchen knife embedded at least four inches by the blood shown carefully on the blade when it was pulled out by the stabbed character, who then went on to limp a bit while he walked around, interacted, and finally was not shot by the police detective – and who survived with no visible effects by a short time afterward; and a character poked at in the stomach by a little knife who died instantly. Neither of these seemed at all realistic – but the plot required one survivor to talk and talk, and the other to be removed quickly from the scene.

In the same way, disability in fiction is mentioned when necessary to make a quick plot point – but not there pervasively.

FICTION = EMPATHY

I have written about how properly-constructed fiction is uniquely helpful in creating empathy in humans because it allows them to live alongside a character the life affected by the choices the author has made (type ’empathy’ into my search box).

They do, however, have to read said fiction, which means it has to be surrounded by the best entertainment the writer can provide.

I’m not surprised there aren’t more disabled characters, but I’m disappointed that indie isn’t more of a place where, since the big publishers are not supervising the product, there are more disabled, diverse, and simply ‘different’ characters and stories.

But there is that pesky thing about having to write well to sneak the empathy bits in under the radar. It takes more space, more words, more time.

It is MUCH harder to market.

I still think it’s worth it.


Do chronically ill/disabled characters make you squirm?

Fourth floor shenanigans at our new home

The window washer poses on our balcony at the new retirement community

I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW

We haven’t been here a year, so everything is still new.

Today it has been beeping since 7 am, which is almost three hours, and the beeping is associated with not only the cherry-picker backing up, but with the arm being lowered and raised to bring today’s newest – our window washers.

The cherry-picker brought this nice man up to the fourth floor balcony, and then he clambered over the edge, and was left here cleaning the balcony window and the door

Door to our fourth floor balcony - window being cleaned

to the balcony – from the outside.

I don’t know if housekeeping cleans the windows from the inside – must find out.

Meanwhile, his partner cleaned the other big windows (they believe in lots of light here) in the living room and the other bedroom.

Of such is my day – and I’ve even started blocking out the beeping.

Another reason to get to bed on time – stuff happens that wakes me much earlier than I’d like otherwise. Especially since I couldn’t get to sleep until after 3 am.

My thanks to the working people of our nation – we so often take them for granted.


What wakes you up too early?

Listen to the priceless gift of feedback

HONEST FEEDBACK IS ABOVE RUBIES

This one’s as true as when I first wrote it, before even being published at novel length, and in general people who ask for feedback in my various online writer’s groups are open to getting it, and gracious when it isn’t quite what they asked for.

Maybe I’m getting pickier at the groups I’m in.

The principle is the same: if you’re going to argue with the messenger, don’t order the service.


FROM April 2013:

Feedback: the priceless gift

Had an experience that made me take notice – so I stopped to figure out what happened.

I had gone to a new website – looked mildly interesting – for a writer. This writer put up the cover of his first book as kind of a teaser for his second – so far so good – and it sounded interesting enough that I clicked through to Amazon – considering buying.

So: he’s got me as a live one.

I read the description of the second book, and my brain goes, ‘Wait a minute – something not quite right here.’

The description for the second book was for a science fiction book. Conspiracies and space warfare and etc.

It was supposed to be a sequel – to his first book, written a while back.

But here’s the problem: the cover for the FIRST book hadn’t said a word about SF, just a one-word title and a name (of new writer – not one who is known to write SF).

The importance of covers

The ARTICLE he wrote was about the importance of COVERS. So I was primed to actually consider HIS in more detail than I normally would have done.

And it didn’t say, to me, what it was supposed to say. To me, the image and the title did NOT convey ‘SF inside.’ My opinion, of course.

So, being the nice helpful person I am, I bothered to go back, think it through, and tell this writer my impression of his cover strategy. As mildly and inoffensively as I could. I don’t do this often, and only when I think I have something to add to a thread. It takes a bit of time,

And he ARGUED with me! When I happened to go back to see if there was further discussion (being interested in covers, as a writer who will be self-publishing one of these days, because that’s what drew me to his website/blog in the first place), I read that he thought I was wrong, that there WERE SF elements on the cover, and I had somehow missed the signals.

Which miffed me, again mildly. [By way of credentials, I have been reading SF since the 1960s, and even had a membership in the SF Book Club which kept good SF coming regularly.]

Do you argue with the gift-giver?

I stopped to think why, and realized that there is a lesson there for ME: If someone does you the favor of giving you unbiased feedback about any aspect of your writing from THEIR point of view, your only acceptable response is “Thank you – I will think about what you said.”

Not to argue that your visitor and commenter is WRONG.

I have done this before, left careful feedback, and clearly labeled it ‘my opinion.’ Heck – I did it at Hugh Howey’s website (before his current fame – not that long ago), and his response was exactly right: Thanks for the suggestion, and I will consider it carefully. As a commenter (and now a fan – having gone to Amazon after his response and bought the whole WOOL omnibus), I felt listened to and appreciated. As if, in a small way, I had been able to contribute something.

So I got a valuable lesson from the experience: the one thing you cannot buy is the unvarnished opinion of a new true commenter. It is a gift when someone offers a considered opinion of your writing. It is feedback from a new READER. And it means you have made a connection. The last thing you want to do is discourage or discount the flash of inspiration you get. The aphorism is “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It is TRUE.


Thoughts?

The limitations of a writer circumvented

EXPERIENCES ARE STILL POSSIBLE

This one I picked to bring forward again because I’m glad I recorded this post about getting around some of the significant Life imposes on those with disabilities and chronic illnesses: finding ways to keep the raft of experience growing even as we chop off pieces to fund our work.

I have to find a way to make the singing a bigger part of the current life.

And it is also timely, as Easter is next Sunday.

From February 2013:


I have been coping all morning with the side effects of yesterday, not being able to write, nor even look at my notes for, the current scene under revision in the WIP.

And yet, I am not unhappy.

With the limitations of CFS, I live a tiny life: I try not to leave the house more than 2-3 times a week, I say no to almost everything, and I have worked hard to create a schedule that puts the writing first (Get up. Grab First Diet Coke. Block internet for 2 hours. Write. Take First Nap. Get up. Grab Second Coke, protein breakfast shake. Block internet for 2 hours. Write. Take Second Nap. Phew – most of day is now gone.).

My house is, understandably, a disaster area. The bills get done when I am either forced to or have a functional period after the writing. Taxes, end of year deductions, holidays, occasional trips – all interrupt the flow, and take a week to recover from – and get back on schedule from. They are necessary, so I pay the price and don’t worry about it too much. If there’s energy, I write – I don’t spend it on housekeeping.

It leaves little time for the ‘life experiences’ writers need to grow – a Hobson’s choice.

But for ten years I made space for a weekly singing lesson (even though the teacher said I should practice an hour every day – and it was a rare week when I had any energy for doing anything other than singing if I had to drive myself somewhere that week). Up to 8 times a year I go to a Folk Sing on a Friday night. And a year ago, when they were soliciting new members for the tiny choir that sings at the Princeton University chapel for the 4:30 Sunday Mass I attend when classes are in session, and knowing that they practiced before Mass (rather than having a separate choir practice night, which would have been an additional outing every week), I volunteered. With the caveat that it might not be something I could continue doing.

For those who sing, I needn’t explain the joy of learning something in four-part harmony every week, however short. For those who don’t, just know that I am treated as if it’s obvious that I CAN, and that’s enough.

After a year, which I survived, we were challenged to take turns as Cantor (it’s an erratic crew due to school and other commitments, and we were down to two or three who had cantored – yesterday all but one couldn’t come). One additional training session required – I can do this: I said yes.

Yesterday was My First Time – and, minor bobbles aside, it was glorious, and made up for the loss of Saturday (preparation), Sunday (warmup, practice, Mass!), and today, Monday (can’t seem to get it together, and it’s 4:34pm). Let me say it this way: there is nothing to compare to the experience of opening your mouth and pouring sound into a properly-designed nave and choir in a stone cathedral. It is a living thing that feeds back the sound and amplifies your voice enough to fill the whole. I prayed – went for it. The feeling is a shock, the feedback amazing. The first notes of the a capella Kyrie (which I may have been a third low for – but it doesn’t matter, as the cantor sets the note, and all the rest are relative – the organist had told me not to worry, to just go for it and with it, rather than get a note from him) – me, alone, for a few seconds, and then the rest of us joined in – was an experience that is not available for money. Nor should it be. It is only available for love – and without fear.

The same for the first verse of the meditation, followed by all of us singing what we have been singing throughout Lent.

My point? That even in a life circumscribed by circumstances beyond control, there are still times when it is necessary – and possible – to say ‘Yes!’


How do you replenish?

 

Remembering an old and dear friend

Light bulbs in a line, with the one at the right end lifted, ready to be dropped. Test: Oldies but goodies, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

WE HONOR THOSE WE REMEMBER

As I was going through old posts you may not have seen, I came across something with current applications, as well as remembering that day in Princeton when we put our friend (mine from our CFS support group and the Princeton Folk Music Society) Dr. Paul Whiter’s ashes into the memorial garden at the Episcopal church:

I was reminded of the fourth vow some Christian monks take in addition to their other vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the vow of stability, of staying in one place for the remainder of their lives. Thomas Merton wrote that it meant giving up the hope of finding somewhere else more perfect, and settling in, for life, to the ordinariness of the chosen place.

As fascinating, intelligent man, he would have enjoyed the community we have joined.

He touched many lives, with a gentle spirit.

From April, 2013, when we had just lost him: Words are my memories.

Photo of Dr. Paul Whiter

Live readers are rare for hermit writers

Hiker on beautiful mountaintop, looking toward a far horizon. Test: For perspective, talk to one of your readers. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

And over the last week, I’ve had an experience you would have thought had happened many times before: I had a conversation with a live reader. In person.

Two, in fact. Both at my new abode.

One woman, one man.

The fun part? They’re in the same walking group here (no, I am not in it), and have been talking about me. Or my book, which is highly correlated. I wish I could listen in!

Different perspectives from each of them

One liked it, and has no clue where it’s going, but has decided what cannot be allowed to happen. Huh.

The other liked it, and seemed to connect – and asked me how I made Andrew’s Irishness work. I told her: hours of listening to radio from County Galway, and piles of notes – and a very light hand.

That last bit, a light hand, is critical for so many things in writing.

Yes, there is a lot of research in a novel like mine.

Yes, there is an entire version of 2005/2006 where you’d swear (I hope) that this actually happened.

Yes, like many writers I’m writing about things I haven’t experienced in person, and places I may not have been.

But that’s my job, and my other job is not letting the reader see it.

It can’t be in the story. Readers can’t find themselves in the middle of exposition: the info dump.

That last part is important to me. I want a reader to acquire the story without having to work at it – and I seem to have succeeded reasonably well: I could tell by the questions of both that there were no rough edges they had cut themselves on. Phew!

As I explained, I have not allowed myself the luxury of having a character conveniently think – at a time he or she would never do it – some piece of information that the reader needs. You won’t necessarily get, while reading, what some of those pieces of thought  are for, but you should understand what triggered the thought, and file it away automatically, because. I will connect the dots for you later.

Structure

And I got to say a few words to my new friends about a subject dear to my heart: plotting.

Because fiction is not real life. Even in memoir writing, the memoirist has to be highly selective – space limitations. And pity for the boredom of a reader if given everything.

And fiction has a purpose – which real life has, but not in neat chunks.

I used my skyscraper metaphor: if you aim to build high, and expect people to be able to live in an aerie with a gorgeous view, you have to plan the plumbing from the ground up to the very top: water and waste management cannot be added where convenient, as you go. Those pipes gotta connect.

And how having a solid structure in place – knowing characters, plot, setting, and timeframe, and especially why – allows me, an extreme plotter, the freedom of figuring out how. And the fun.

Conclusion: my notes are useless

I thought I’d get a pile of reactions and write them down for pondering later – so I brought a notebook and four pens (believe it or not, the first three didn’t work).

And scribbled as we went.

And found out later that I had written nothing of value.

Because the interaction itself, the pleasure of being allowed to talk about my work (while being very conscious of what I looked for when homeschooling my kids: the glazed-over eyes), the pleasure of letting someone else talk about my work interfered with coherent note-taking.

As, on reflection, it should.

The hard parts

Not talking too much.

Not correcting a reader’s perception.

Not letting out clues about where a topic will lead.

Not telling what I’m eventually going to show.

Stopping.

And still not having the right to use my own mental energy to get back into the fray, because I have to be patient a bit longer, and get the basics of life tidied up (and new things keep coming along – that’s not going to stop)…

Soon. Very soon.


A nice extra: explaining in person how important review are.


And… it’s time for our wonderful organizer to be here.

Peace out.

Question for discussion: the in-person connection between writer and reader. It is rarer than you think. Have you had it?


PS The ebook of Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for $0.99 until I’m solidly back to writing. Encourage the writer.

Where do liebjabberings visitors come from?

Visitors Feb. 18, 2019, to my blog liebjabberings came from US, Canada, India, South Africa. Australia, Malaysia, France, UK, and the Philippines (graphic shows country flags from my stats page) New countries to blog 2:19:19

Mar 3 new countries

SOME DAY THIS WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE

And meanwhile, visitors are welcome from anywhere!

Stop and say hello – comments welcome. I’m going to steal the following from a fellow blogger: I like to have the last word, so you’ll always get an answer. If you don’t, know that I still read your comment – and decided to let you have the last word on the subject (at the end of an exchange, usually).

Things are getting a little less crazy around here.

We went to visit our kids in Boulder, Colorado, and had a lovely long weekend.

Then we came home, and I had an old friend visit for two evenings – she arranged her life to be able to visit, and it was so good to see her again. We go back 50 years+!

And then came the visit to the new, nice dentist – except that he had an emergency, and the total time dedicated to an appointment which was literally across the road came to over four hours – and I get wiped out by long out-of-the-house events.

I don’t care – all these were desirable (I love dentists who don’t find anything needing doing, even when a bit of a porcelain crown cover came off) – and much appreciated visits with loved ones.

I’m getting to the new stuff.

One of the residents here, of the several who have read Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, chatted with me this afternoon about her reactions to it – and has offered to connect me to her book club. Book clubs are wonderful ways to get word of mouth out to serious readers, and I look forward to maybe even visiting some of the many in our new city.

I get so few opportunities to just talk and answer questions about my writing (one tries not to be a pushy author) that it was a real pleasure, as well as good for the soul. She got so many things about the work.

One of my main questions – because it’s a trilogy – is always whether readers were unsatisfied at the end of what is known to be the first volume, and feel cheated in any way. She said no – but she can’t wait for the next one – which is balm to my senses.

She also said she had trouble putting it down, and for someone whose nightly habit is to read a bit with her doggie settled in her lap, and then go to bed, I find it cheering to be unputdownable.

I ordered and received a proof copy from Amazon. Createspace has closed, and the automatic transfer to being printed on demand by KDP (?) has to be checked out. The cover looks fine (except that it says ‘proof’ on it, right through the middle of Kary’s head), but I need to compare the paging, and look for the few errors that have been corrected, and make sure they are using the latest file. Due diligence. Then I’ll see about ordering some replacement copies to have as my pre-move supply has all been given out at our new community.

And the usual small problems.

My .mobi electronic ARC has NOT worked for the last two people I sent it to, which means Kindle changed something, and I need to re-create the file to send out for reviewers. There are few things worse than getting someone to read and review for you, and to send them a file they can’t open!

It is irritating to have to spend energy on something that was working fine. And it means going a long way back, and worrying about the version of Scrivener (I have v3, and haven’t updated to it yet), and figuring out a bunch of things such as Compile for ebooks…

I just found my writing books – I used to have them at my right hand while writing, but haven’t since everything was packed and shipped: what have I missed and will it show in the new scenes?

I still haven’t recovered from last July’s crash.

I can’t remember where I was on so many little details of life. And writing.

But this is the last move

before I finish the trilogy – if I have anything to say about it. And the good Lord gives me life and brain.

Things can only get better – I’m excited at the possibilities, and cheered by finding readers here.

I will get my software, computer, and backups under control. I’ll keep writing, and make the progress I had hoped for from the new digs.

And go swimming.

It was always about the pools.


Does your future have pools?


 

Being a quirky writer for yourself

A wolf baying at the night. Text: Some of us writers please ourselves. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

I WILL BE A QUIRKY WRITER

Especially because I may write few books in a lifetime, where the fiction push started late, and already ill when I began writing, I have to make the books count.

There will be a shelf next to my bed in the last place I live, and the books there will have to be what I wrote – and what I love.

But it’s quirky in an odd way. Either a reader will like what I write, or not be of my tribe.

That’s not so unusual: all writers have a tribe, once they’re past a certain minimum of quality that they can stand to put their name on nom de plume on.

Or they wouldn’t keep writing.

I write in blood

But I will never write to market. Never mind that I can’t – writing to market takes a lot of energy. I don’t want to.

Now that I’ve moved, I never have to write again. There are a million things even I can do in the new place, and they all take energy, and they are all a lot more fun than writing.

And then one person comes up to me at dinner, and tells me how much she loved the TV talk show scene, and I’m hooked again, on the dopamine that comes only to writers who have done their best, and have been rewarded, and have no internal regrets about skimping.

I honestly don’t want to go back and change a single word in PURGATORY. Which is good, because it would be an incredible amount of work.

But it’s also making me insecure about picking up the metaphorical pen again, because I haven’t been able to finish the one scene I’ve been working on since before we moved.

So much is riding on this scene

Plot, characters, theme – everything is going through a knot.

Everything is getting kicked up several notches.

Because the middle book in a trilogy needs that.

And I had no idea it was this one place I would have foundered for a while, no matter where I had been, until I started writing and realized how many threads I held in my hands, how many things go from before – toward the end of this book, and the end of this story, and how critical it is to get it right.

I think my subconscious knew, and my brain protected me.

So I would have time to consider what I’ve set out, fully.

I can’t wait to get to these ends, but the path has to be lit and leveled and have the right slope and the best edging and a solid underpinning of rock.

Because it leads toward high cliffs, and I would rather my characters (whom I’m very fond of) found resolution almost any other way. But there is none.

Glad I got that off my chest

And may your New Year have that kind of pull on you.

Once you get over being afraid of heights, the view can be amazing.

Over to you: what’s in store in 2019 that you can’t wait for?

 

Second attempt to restart writing

Section of library at University Retirement Community showing Pride's Childre on the new books shelf, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THE LIBRARY AT URC’S NEW BOOKS SHELF

It takes a while to get back to work.

My previous attempt, one good working day after six months of nada, was on October 2, 2018, right after I got my files back from the crash.

My apologies for the radio silence, but it has been a combination of 1) things needing doing RIGHT NOW, and 2) an exhaustion so profound as a result of the continued stress that thinking was not a possibility.

Not CREATIVE thinking. Nor ORGANIZED thinking.

Tearing out your life by the roots has consequences

In NJ, we had doctors, cars, a driver’s license, food in the basement freezer, bicycles…

In CA, we didn’t.

We haven’t bought a car, and may not. But the shared car available at our new retirement community requires:

  • a California driver’s license
  • our NJ driving record, which in turn required doing stuff online, waiting until they MAILED us an ID, to be used online to order the record!
  • permission from our doctor (when we didn’t even have a doctor) – and I still can’t believe I had to ask permission from him when I finally got an internist and an appointment
  •  ‘Mature Driver’s Course’ – available online, and which only took me 17 hours and three days to complete. If you would like to experience frustration, try the course. And the test questions seemed to be designed to get you to fail. It only took me two tries – and I could have done it faster if I hadn’t reviewed the entire course first.
  • filling out the forms.

It would just be nice to have the option to sign out the vehicle (which comes with fuel and insurance) instead of having to deal with a car rental agency.

And yes, Lyft and Uber and the facility’s own group vehicles, and the on-site bikes and trike are all available.

But nothing is quit like putting your shoes on, walking to your car, popping in, adjusting the mirrors if necessary – and driving away.

Except that it’s an expensive option if you don’t use if often.

I had assistants in NJ

Wonderful helpful women who made my life easier, because they always did whatever I needed when they came.

But there’s no room in this one-bedroom apartment for an assistant, and a lot less for one to do, so I probably won’t have one here.

As a result, there’s a lot of non-urgent unpacking still to be done.

And we’re still waiting for a larger place.

Everything is different

Have I mentioned having a social life? It’s nice – but there is a lot of it, even with just going to dinner every day.

And most things have an inflexible time, something I only had occasionally back in NJ (congratulate me on not calling it ‘home’ very often). Which basically means a lot of time wasted because it’s almost time to do X, or you just got home from doing X.

But today I gritted my teeth

Told myself to stop wasting time, as I may have a lot less of it than I think.

Blocked the internet for several hours with Freedom.

Located the papers I created or brought.

Took out the Scrivener project, the Dramatica Story Expert file, and my Calendar.

And dove in.

I must say, I am VERY proud of my incessant note-taking as I write – because it was like having everything poured back into my brain from a pitcher.

It’s been seven months (if you don’t count the one day) since anything substantial, and I’m hoping this attempt will take.

And I found that the pieces I’ve already done are just fine, and ready to take to the next step, writing the individual scenes for this chapter.

I don’t care how many tries it takes to really get going

None of the interruptions have been my doing. Everything is taking a lot longer to do than it should in anyone’s imagination.

Registering to vote took ages, but I finally have online proof, which I printed out; the voter registration card which has been promised has not yet arrived. That was a high priority, and is usually done in conjunction with the driver’s license, but, because of the other things I need (including replacing my handicapped placard, for which I needed the doctor mentioned above to fill out the form, which meant I had to see him…), we haven’t gone to get the new licenses yet.

Looking back, there is a mañana attitude to life here – from everyone. People tell me it was years before they were completely settled. Though most people move in here older than we are now. And many are in-state, a large portion of those local enough to keep some of their doctors.

And of course we have to try everything, from the Bizarre Bazaar (bought a table and three chairs) to the End of Life discussion group which is starting (postponed that one – it’s a six-week commitment, for an hour and a half each week, either Tuesday or Saturday right in the middle of the afternoon!) to an activity I won’t mention that didn’t work.

And popping into the pools. Ah, pools! And hot tubs.

And the hours it took to connect so I could have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY catalogued (see picture of New Books section).

Just hope for me that it takes hold this time. I am getting very grumpy.

And how have you all been?


Accidentally published first as page, not post – brain not completely back on board! I was mystified: I usually get at least ONE comment. !Ay, Alicia!

Were you wondering where we were

 

Part of Alicia's face with pool in background

THIS IS WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT

This is what I moved Heaven and Earth for: to move to a place with a pool. Not just any pool, but one in the same building, and one of four.

And, of course, we moved so the kids won’t have to wait until we’re even older, and then help move Mom and Dad into the old folks home.

Things have changed in the world, and we no longer needed a big house and two cars in the suburbs to bring up a family.

And we were definitely not enjoying life, taking care of said house. Most of our friends are moving – and suddenly our quiet suburban court was no longer the place where we hung out. Not that I’ve been comfortable hanging out outside for years now, since I stopped being able, physically, to do even a half-hour of gardening (I truly didn’t mind pulling weeds) at a stretch. No point in lovely perennials if you never get out of the house.

The saga continues

We’re living in our second temporary quarters of the move.

The first was an Extended Stay America just north of Quakerbridge Mall on Route 1 in central NJ. We were there from the day before the movers took our stuff away (a night we slept two hours at the motel, and then stayed up all night at the old homestead while trying to get everything packed before the movers came.

Not the best method for me – I’d sleep a half-hour, get up to pack for a couple hours, repeat – all night long. I’ve packed that way for ‘vacation’ trips before, and it isn’t pretty. But it had to be done.

But this is much better because we’re at the guest suite until our furniture and boxes arrive at the end of the first week of September (NJ is a long way from California by moving van), and finally starting to catch up on sleep and get hooked into the system here.

The food is too good

Shrimp and lovely no-sugar-added carrot cake for dinner tonight, with a salad someone else prepared – but I can already see we will have to be careful, or the pounds will pile on – and the clothes arriving next week won’t fit!

The hours are a little on the early side for what we’ve been accustomed to, and we’re getting into the habit of being exhausted well before midnight – feels odd to a confirmed night owl, but you don’t argue with dining room hours if you want to be fed.

Photo of fitness center showing hot tub, therapy pool, and indoor pool

It took me two days, but I finally had time and energy – dropped the laundry off on the way down, and headed for the pool. For a while.

Then I took a shower in their well-appointed locker room (people don’t usually bother with locks) in the handicapped stall because our unit doesn’t have the seated shower. Let me tell you, I haven’t felt this safe getting clean since we took down the shower doors back in NJ months ago because the agent said the house looked tacky with them (they were old and corroding, but I could lightly hold onto the inside bar for some stability).

I have achieved my goal of avoiding a fall, even thought vertically challenged. We’ll have one of these showers in the permanent 2 BR apartment when we get it, but meanwhile I will take my safe showers by the pool. Falls are a major cause of problems for people as they get older.

So the first stage of the move in is over (we put things in the drawers!), and by the next time I write, we should be in our permanent temporary (1 BR) quarters, waiting to see what becomes available for a 2 BR.

In excellent spirits, if still figuring out where everything is

And you do need to take your keys and ID badge with you every time.

Not completely coherent here, but we are okay, the worst is probably over (except for the move IN coming up, and the second one some time in the future), and everyone here has been so nice.

I have to figure out a better way to send the photos to the blog from the iPhone, too, but too many details to worry about right now, and my cobbled get-arounds eventually work.

So bye for now. More when I have it. Moving is a pain for everyone, I’m sure, but eventually it will all be over.

Can’t wait to get settled enough to write – I’m way behind.

Oh, and the fitness expert/instructor seems awfully confident she can get me walking again. Please pray.


 

A jackhammer sounds like a helicopter

Road crew with dump truck and excavator digging a hole in the street in front of our house to repair a sewer pipe crack.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING IN LIFE

Homeowner problems

This is still our house, but really? Now? A month before we don’t own it any more?

Didn’t need the worry!

We have owned this house since it was built in 1981. March 5th we moved in, and it has had no other family in it. In all those years, we NEVER had a sewer problem connected to the street.

Well, just for funsies, the day AFTER the Open House, a small sink hole developed by the curb, right near the real estate sign, and we wondered whether they had nicked the water line into the house (since no markings were made on the grass and bushes, and no flags set by utility companies). So we duly reported it, the township fixed the small sink hole, and we thought that was that.

Told lawyer and real estate agent, so they wouldn’t say we didn’t inform them of potential problems (water line, sewer) that we might be required to disclose.

Then we got a message on our answering machine from the head of the Sewer Dept., stating there was a problem where our sewer pipe connected to the main – in the middle of the street (so not on our property).

When contacted, found out they would get it fixed by contractors as soon as they had enough for a day’s work for one. We thought it would be forever, but they started early this morning, did NOT (bless them!) ring our door bell until around 9am when they needed us not to send anything down the sewer line for a while (now over), and they proceeded to make a standard repair.

Which they are in the process of asphalting right this minute.

What was that sound?

The sound I heard, which was like every helicopter in every movie, was actually a man tamping down soil and gravel into the hole with a jackhammer-like device (probably called, with all due irony, a tamper), was not Black Hawks landing on our lawn.

Much more prosaic.

And over much sooner than I expected – so I am impressed by our township’s efficiency at keeping us in the loop, and the contractor’s at getting a ‘not uncommon’ problem fixed efficiently and quickly.

Yay, taxes!

Yay, First World problems.

Not our responsibility, thank goodness – no digging up the front lawn and all the way to the house – no cost.

I have never been happier to pay property taxes which include infrastructure.


Of such is my life right now.

And y’all get such interesting but ultimately unimportant trivia because I can, courtesy of iPhone and WordPress, mail a photo snapped in a moment out my office window directly to my Media Library. Gotta love the modern world.