Category Archives: Short posts

When to restart a scene from scratch

Yup, blank.

SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE

I gather a lot of pre-written material when I start a scene.

I also have a lot of lists of prompts I fill out which remind me to think of various aspects of a scene, from the internal twist to the various beats to the emotions I wish to invoke in Readers, so I’ve created a lot of new material now that I’m about to write this scene.

And I have one bugaboo, what I call the Old Text (OT), the original polished-but-primitive draft that I wrote when I had the three books in the trilogy plotted out, and wanted to see that I could make it logically from the first line to the last.

The Old Text can be missing, a few paragraphs, a scene in the wrong point of view (pov), or even, in the worst case, a

PERFECT FINISHED COMPLETE SCENE IN THE CORRECT CHARACTER’S POINT OF VIEW.

Except it’s not right.

And every attempt to take what you have and rework it, rearrange it, change it, edit it, tweak it

doesn’t work.

It’s still wrong.

Worse, it’s throwing you off and keeping you from getting into the character’s pov so you can fix things.

For those times you have a secret weapon:

You can choose not to keep ANY of what you wrote before.

Or only a couple of tiny new pieces you just wrote that you know are in the right pov.

Or an image or two, reworded of course.

Or the time/day/date.

Or even the idea of the scene.

But you don’t have to because there is no Scene Police Division

down at writing headquarters.

No one who can make you, encourage you, or even try to persuade you.

Just because you wrote it gives it no rights.

Just because it was finished, complete, polished, and has impeccable grammar and spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, and you worked for days on it way back when you wrote that particular version, it has no integrity or separate solidity: it is just as friable as your grocery list.

With me, it means I am really stuck.

All the journaling in the world can’t fix something that needs to be plowed under and redesigned from the bottom up.

I just redid a scene like this – from a blank page. After getting fairly close to…something.

I had so much new stuff to put into the scene, and such a solid Old Text version, I thought it might be one of the few things that survived from that draft.

Nuh uh.

Maybe if I had published the scene as a story fifteen or twenty years ago when I wrote this particular little gem, and spent days or weeks getting it to be the best I could do back then. It might have been a book I removed from my backlist after getting much better with the newer books.

I’m glad I didn’t publish that older draft.

Even I had the sense to realize it needed a lot of work.

The new version is so much better.

But I hadn’t realized that the OT had so much power.

I didn’t want to start from scratch. I didn’t want to dump everything.

I wasn’t sure I could write something better, or come up with an entirely different version of the original idea.

That’s just the FEAR talking. Trying to protect me from wasted effort (old and new).

So I labeled the old contents ‘draft version’, and left it where I could get to it easily if I needed to swipe something from it.

And I started a blank file with the words: ‘just putting this here so the page isn’t blank’

And I started all over again, paying special attention to how that character operated, felt, saw, listened and wrote it again from the top.

Then I deleted ‘just putting this here so the page isn’t blank’, proceeded with my other steps to get a scene into final usable state, and didn’t insist it contain any of that old but good stuff, and …

It’s finished. It came out far better. I wrote the new version in a day or two, edited and polished it, and it doesn’t look at all like the OT.

I still can’t imagine any amount of tweaking that would have turned the previous grammatically-correct-but-completely-wrong and progress-blocking scene into what I signed off on today.

It hurt. A lot. All that nice clean text!

But sometimes you have no choice but to start from scratch.

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Stubborn opinionated determined author at work

You can’t guarantee the results

Isn’t ‘effort’ the same thing as ‘work?

After I wrote the above, I realized that I think of them separately (personal choice), with effort being the whole mental atmosphere surrounding what writers do – from paying attention to things other people never notice, including information on publicity, covers, and selling – and work being actually sitting down and turning that attitude into things such as a finished ad or a description that rocks or any number of other ‘deliverables.’

WORK‘, of course, includes the writing itself, the finished words on the page of a pdf you are about to upload to Amazon or others.

And know it’s the best version of the story you are able to provide that mysterious elusive creature, the Reader.

After that, Amazon takes over and supplies copies of the WORK to those who pay for it.

For many of us, Amazon is currently publisher and distributor, for a hefty portion of the rewards (30% for ebooks, more for print books). I am currently okay with that. Because that equation is far worse on the traditional publishing side, and many of the benefits to using them (editing, covers, advertising, promotion, reasonable advances, royalties) are on the path of the Dodo bird.

Writing successful fiction requires two additional things:

Finding your potential readers, and

Getting them to try your writing.

If you haven’t truly written a good book that readers would buy if they only knew about you, YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME when you promote and advertise and stand on your head to do PR. You may fool some of the people some of the time, but that is rarely a recipe for commercial success.

Indeed, after reading some authors’ latest ‘work’, I know I will never read another from them.

But the whole discoverability part of writing is hard, tricky, and requires the one thing I don’t have: energy and the capacity for endless self-promotion.

If you have written ‘a good book’ for a segment of the population

the satisfied readers should be clamoring for more.

If you have more (backlist), they have a lot to discover and enjoy.

If not, well, keep working. And some readers will never get that pleasure from you again, but it won’t be your fault, if you’ just keep truckin’.’

And hope for some luck, or ‘Here a miracle occurs,’ or going viral, or catching someone’s eye…

Some of us will simply have to hope for an afterlife, and wait to ask Margaret Mitchell what happened to Scarlett. Assuming she still cares – the afterlife runs on different rules, I believe.

And now I’m going off to nap, followed by keeping my nose to my particular grindstone.

I do so want to finish. It’s coming nicely. And every time the idea that life might be easier if I spent it entertaining myself instead of torturing myself with imaginary people, I have managed to fight that attitude off.

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What are the things in your life that you will never give up on?

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Nothing to say? Write post anyway.

Other than some minor (I hope) health problems, which I hope to get taken care of asap, it has been weird not to be blogging occasionally, and the reason is literally that I have not much to say lately.

But I don’t want anyone to worry – and there are, I think, over 600 posts, most still relevant, if you like to poke through either the personal or the writing stuff – and comments are still open on all of them. I love comments.

My usual writing post in the past has been about solving some plotting or writing problem, often in a way I haven’t seen done before (which doesn’t mean there aren’t many posts out there about that topic). It intrigues me, I figure it out, I document – and voilà, reading material. I’m not sure if non-writers find them amusing, but they are easy to skip and usually obvious from the post title.

However, as the writing has matured (and I don’t want to change things so it isn’t obvious how long it takes me to write), I find fewer reasons to document new writing problems solved – as I go along.

Other posts came to be when we uprooted ourselves from the US East Coast (New Jersey) in 2018 and re-established ourselves permanently in Davis, California, at a nice Continuing Care Retirement Community – so we will never have to move again. One of these days we might actually be settled in, but now that the pandemic is under control here, it’s mundane, and I have to remind myself to spend a bit of my precious energy, and go outside occasionally, since every day usually has a ‘nice’ part to it. Maggie and I may go for a ride on the way home from dinner – going the outside route around the building instead of the shorter one through the inside carpeted halls.

I WILL tell you I’m writing – and it gets – and takes – all my available energy and all the time during which my brain is functional. NETHERWORLD is going extremely well – albeit slowly – I’m two thirds through it, and have just finished writing the two hardest scenes of the whole trilogy. So, technically, it’s all uphill from here (but NOT in a straight line). It didn’t help much – the next scene was still hard – but the commitments I made in 2000 to the plot have never wavered, and yes, I did the deed and wrote through the Dark Night of the Soul and Whiff of Death moments – and they came out even better than I had hoped for.

Still hoping to finish it this year.

We saw our daughters in person!

We hope for a family vacation (the kids pick the dates, and then we scramble).

And we will be celebrating the reception part of a family zoom wedding from last October – this October. In person. Yay, vaccination!

I have, at last count, about 90 started posts I never finished for one reason or another. Periodically I read through some of them to see if they might provide some mild entertainment for a visitor – you may see some of those pop up.

But mostly, since the energy is STILL extremely limited (think back to what you’ve read of covid long-haulers – that’s typical), it goes to finishing the Pride’s Children trilogy every day.

Stop by and say hi, contribute a bit about your current, hopefully post-pandemic panic life, and rest assured I’m still working my tail off for those who have been so kind as to say they’re waiting for the next book in the trilogy – and after that to get the third published as well.

The end of NETHERWORLD should make a lot of people happy – and then extremely worried again.

The third volume, still to be named though I’m leaning toward LIMBO & PARADISE, is a doozy. I hope to soon not be the only one who knows how it ends.

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I love to hear from you.

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Tagline, logline, pitch are the hardest writing ever

A PLOTTER SHIFTS WORD ONE TO CHANGE WORD LAST

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

“What is your book about?”

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

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

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

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

I’ve known since the beginning

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

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

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

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

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

But I hadn’t dared. Which seems silly.

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

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

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

Why now, halfway through NETHERWORLD?

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

Because challenges not faced come back to haunt you.

And because I think I got it.

Finally.

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

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

And choking on it.

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

As you probably know, mere appearance never works.

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

Delusions of grandeur, Impostor Syndrome, Fear of Failing

They take their toll.

Why does it matter so much?

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

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

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

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

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

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Tagline: Pride’s Children is

The Great American Love Story.

Logline:

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

Pitch:

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

Mission statement: what you are trying to achieve

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

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For better or worse, they are now on record.

The writing proceeds.

I’d never googled myself – just did

Ye olde PhD thesis.

APPARENTLY COMMENTS DON’T COUNT

And I say that because mine are ALL OVER THE INTERNET. With my name on them. You must have seen some.

Some of the places that turned up, some expected, others not:

http://www.spacefacts.de/bios/candidates/nasa9/english/ehrhardt_alicia.htm

https://www.bookdepository.com/publishers/Trilka-Press

http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2017/11/review-prides-children-purgatory-by.html

Featured Writer on Wellness: Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

https://www.trentonian.com/news/most-will-remember-where-they-were/article_50320d0b-2357-536a-a5f5-812fd5b08bfb.html

Alicia Butcher-Ehrhardt was descending the stairs of her Hamilton Square home, preparing to home-school her three children.

“I came downstairs, and my husband and two boys said, ‘No school today,'” Butcher-Ehrhardt said. “We watched it together as a family.”

Her 9-year-old daughter, Rebecca, was sitting with her father watching television when the attacks occurred.

“I sort of understood what was going on,” she said. “I was scared, and, I don’t know, it felt weird.”

She said that she’s feeling a little better now, but she’s “still uncomfortable with what happened.”

Her mom isn’t surprised.

“It’s the end of an era,” Butcher-Ehrhardt said. “It will be a huge change in the way my children have to grow up. They normally feel safe. This will make a big dent.”

When you have to micromanage your plot

YOU CAN’T PLAN EVERYTHING AHEAD OF TIME

And the farther you are from the beginning and the end (if you’re an extreme plotter as I am), the more likely you are to get to a point where a scene just isn’t obvious.

You know what the chain of scenes has to accomplish (connecting beginning to end efficiently and while keeping the reader entertained), but the specifics of some of the scenes just don’t set off the process which ends in writing the scene as if it had always been there.

I wasn’t surprised to find out it happened on this timeline

On the story that is not primary right now, the character timeline that is keeping one of the three characters off on her own while the other two are doing a very personal interaction necessary to the story, together.

So I know exactly when this character is rejoining the primary thread, and what is going to happen from that point on, but the notes I took on what she does meanwhile, in scenes that have to make her emergence exactly right when it happens, were placeholders, and they don’t satisfy, precisely because they are placeholders.

You can’t let the reader completely lose sight of a character

Not for chapter after chapter. Because in real life, a character is always the main character on her storyline.

It is possible that the time spent alone on her story is not all that interesting to the reader.

In GWTW, many long pages go by when we don’t hear what Frank Kennedy is doing – because Scarlett doesn’t care yet. Then, when her story demands another husband, and she decides she deserves what he has, and her sister would just waste it, she grabs him, and he has a presence in the main story until she manages to get him killed.

That’s one way to do it.

It’s better if that character is doing something

Something that needs reporting back to the reader, and something that will cause major problems if not resolved by the right time in the right way.

Something that really worries the reader.

Something that heads off in a direction far away from what the reader wanted the character to be doing, and that gets worse with each peek we get at what she’s up to and why.

In other words, I was missing an opportunity

And that’s why this scene I’m working on (31.5 for those keeping count) is giving me trouble.

It doesn’t yet have the danger coefficient it needs.

I don’t allow ‘middle’ scenes. Waste of good space and plotting sequence work. If the scene isn’t enhancing the story, it shouldn’t be there, but I have my other constraint which says we need to see what this character is up to.

The reader deserves that: my implicit contract with readers is that I won’t waste their time. If something is there, it can’t be removed (and the books shortened) without doing violence to the story and leaving a hole.

I just hadn’t thought out this particular sub-plot in the detail it needs, and my subconscious noticed – and stopped a perfectly good, if unnecessary, scene from being written.

It was okay.

But not good.

And it is going to have to be much better before I can enjoy writing it, and if I don’t enjoy writing it, why bother?

So I apologize in advance to my beta reader – this is going to make you very unhappy, and that’s exactly what I want to do, because the depth of despair predicts the heights achievable every time.

I made some lists, and I found all kinds of fodder.

I may end up using all of it in various degrees.

I have a bunch of decisions to make about relative strengths and what to summarize versus what to make the reader live through, but the thought processes have generated far more than I needed, and now I get to choose only the best.

I felt a bit lost, and I’ve been struggling with that feeling since I finished 31.4, and now I know how to proceed with making this timeline contribute to the rightness of the conclusion, instead of merely walking along the side track until it crossed the main path again.

Thanks for listening.

This is how I make progress, by understanding what I’m doing – and then writing it down.

I’m trying not to make too many mistakes twice.

That ol’ subconscious knows what it’s doing.

Every time.

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Happy New Year – and I hope you survived 2020 intact!

May 2021 bring you joy and peace.

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Cabin fever requires getting out of the retirement community

THE BIG EXCITEMENT: RIDING MY TRIKE FOR FLU SHOT

I rode over to my flu-clinic appointment, and rode through the drive-by on my trike, Trixie, because we have been in California since Aug. 2018, and haven’t bought a car.

And haven’t yet acquired driver’s licenses.

We were doing okay with Uber and Lyft until the pandemic; now I’m not taking that chance.

I’m practically never leaving the premises except for a short trike ride occasionally – and everything out there looks perfectly normal (I stay on the greenway, don’t get off the trike).

A few days later, the medvan took me to my cardiologist appointment with Maggie2 – and I decided to just ride her home – and took a few pastoral pictures on the way home.

Beautiful day, almost too hot in the sun, and yes, I wore my helmet (not that I usually bother – I go about a mile an hour; you can walk faster).

When you don’t hear from me

it’s because I haven’t had much to say for one of two reasons:

  1. I’m bummed, the body isn’t working, and I can only stare at the screen and feed myself, or
  2. I’m writing!

Pride’s Children NETHERWORLD lost about two years to us moving. I started it in 2016, and had hoped to finish it in 5 years instead of the 15 it took PURGATORY, but I hadn’t planned on the move.

No matter – the new insight I have into how my body works is letting me have a few more usable hours, and I’m plugging along, as slow as usual during the actual time the brain is on (I do a LOT of work preparing for a scene, consume many hours in the writing, and spend gobs of time editing).

So it takes up most of my days to get some usable time around the limitations, but lately the words are coming out the way I like them to, and I am about to finish another chapter.

The ‘real world’ is crazy

Between the pandemic and the politics, and us being in lockdown with pool hours only available mid-morning, right in the middle of my writing time, and me still spending hours staring at the screen, I’m surprised I’m getting a single word on a page.

My secret is Freedom – and the self-discipline to block the internet for a set of hours, with no way to get more than the few sudokus I set up before I start (for breaks).

FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT TO WRITE is my motto.

(me)

And fight WordPress for the right to blog my words my way. Mostly I win.

We are being allowed a little other freedom

We can have dinner on the outside terrace by La Brisa, our alternate dining venue.

We can have dinner with ONE other person or couple in the regular dining room, with the tables now very far apart, and our temperature checked before we sit down, going in one door of the dining room and out the other (which, due to the design of this place, requires us to go down from the Third Floor by the Central Elevator to the First Floor, walk a fair distance, and take the East Elevator up to the Fourth Floor where we live.

They tell us it’s Yolo County rules. It’s supposed to keep people from bunching up. But they still do it when we’re the last seating.

We had dinner with friends yesterday, for the first time since March, and will be having dinner with different friends next Saturday – assuming no one gets ill.

And we’re still using the outdoor pool (Yolo County again), but I had to get out after 20 minutes because it is way too cold, and I couldn’t take it any more. Slightly better than nothing.

In other news

And we went to a wedding in Boulder, CO, by zoom because our son and new daughter-in-law (finally) have decided to postpone the reception but had the wedding. It was lovely. Parents and sibling on both sides, and the bride’s grandmother. California, Texas, and New York were represented.

There will be a party when it’s safe – they have a venue date for October of NEXT year.

And that’s about it except for compulsive news reading (NYT, WaPo, a few others) about the pandemic, and we’ve sent our ballots in by mail and the State of California confirms they have been received.

I hope the nightmare is over. Nobody is taking it for granted.

What a year!

And this is why I don’t blog when nothing has been happening – it’s boring!

My lovely beta reader is expecting, and they have had three hurricanes go over their heads lately (Gulf Coast-ish).

And the fires are mostly out around here.

The other night when I couldn’t sleep I felt an earthquake rattle the bed – it was a 2.7 (tiny to those of us brought up in Mexico City), the person at the Front Desk didn’t feel it, and the Earthquake reporting site had it as happening about ten kilometers from here.

Hope you are all having a more exciting life than I am – and stayed safe over Halloween!

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Write a good book, they said

ALL STORIES ARE ABOUT LOVE

Humans are born needing love to survive – ‘failure to thrive’ may even be a cause of death when there is not enough love, in the form of feeding, holding, keeping warm, for an infant to want to live.

If that love isn’t present ‘enough’ by a certain age, it may never be recovered. Adults who have survived have significant problems. The Romanian children kept in orphanages and later adopted often were incapable of attaching to their new parents, parent who were not prepared to deal with them and their special needs.

Distinguishing between a Romance and a mainstream love story

like Pride’s Children is critical for my advertising, and it is something I still have a very hard time with.

Romance readers do not like Pride’s Children.

The negative reviews I have come from people whose expectations were not met.

And that’s my fault – because something I did caused them to EXPECT a Romance.

Romance readers have very clear ideas of what they want:

  • a relationship between TWO people
  • relatively short books
  • more of the same only different – from the same author
  • an HEA (happily ever after) or at least HFN (happy for now) endings
  • and in some cases, a form of point of view that alternates, in the same scene, between the points of view of the two characters
  • covers which indicate the kind of Romance enclosed within, from chaste to steamy
  • recommendations from Romance websites

There are many variations and compilations, but those are the basics from what I can discern.

I wish I wrote Romance – it is in some ways much easier to signal what a book is, and to market.

There is also a huge amount of competition!

A mainstream love story is a different beast

Even though Gone With the Wind is often listed as a Romance (and ‘Romance’ is what all novels used to be designated), it is not: no happy ending, not even a HFN. NOT a relationship between two people – Ashley Wilkes is in the middle for most of the book. And no head-hopping: the point of view is firmly locked on Scarlett for the whole story, but in a limited, not very intimate, omniscient way.

I’d call GWTW a mainstream love story, even a fairly literary one.

And I think that is the key to its enduring success.

At the end, we ache for Scarlett, for ‘tomorrow is another day,’ for her transformation, for her future – which made it irresistible for the Margaret Mitchell estate to allow a writer to take the story further.

Unfortunately, they picked a Romance writer, which I believe was the wrong choice, and didn’t buy.

But the marketing… with the book’s fame, they could market it any way they wanted.

I don’t have that fame.

Traditional publishers might have known how to market Pride’s Children

Many things kept me from submitting Pride’s Children to an agent, trying to find a traditional publisher:

  • I’m deathly slow
  • Disability is handled in the story – at the time I was nearing a finish, disability only got lip service while being sort of categorized with ‘diversity’
  • I’m pathologically stubborn
  • I have believed the indie self-published path is better for a long time now
  • I dislike not having everything in my control
  • I was sure I would be getting, “Nice – but not for us right now” responses, as traditional publishers went with things they were more certain they could sell
  • I knew I would be asked to change certain elements of the story to something more palatable
  • I don’t like their royalty structure
  • If I break out, I want it to be because of what I did, and not for someone else to be able to claim the credit.

But not going traditional leaves me in charge of marketing and publicity.

And most indies do not write mainstream literary fiction!

So there is little path to follow, and that among mostly indie historical novelists; though if I end up taking as long as I seem to be, ‘historical’ may fit me. Depends on whether it is 25 or 50 years since the events happened, as 2005/6 is the timeframe. I’ll probably make 25 by the time I finish the third volume, but probably not be around for 50.

I am gleaning information and ideas from many sites and groups

None of them really appropriate.

I need to figure out how to ‘go viral,’ to capture the zeitgeist, to become popular.

While still having zero energy, fighting my body daily to get some writing brain time, and trying to blaze a trail.

I have ideas. I have sources and places to put ads (some of the previous ones were expensive disastrous messes). I get cannier and sneakier and more educated and more focused with each thing I try.

But it hasn’t been, and won’t be, easy.

The last attempt led me to USTO.gov (copyrights and trademarks and such) to make sure a phrase I will trademark wasn’t being used already.

It isn’t.

But the cost is not zero, and the category I fit in right now – intent-to-use – won’t last long enough for my purposes, so I’m not revealing it until I’m ready to use it. Meanwhile, I will be on tenterhooks.

Which brings me full circle:

‘Write a good book,’ they said.

But never said that part of that may make it extremely hard to sell.

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As usual, comments are very welcome – and I love getting suggestions.

Also, my thanks to Stencil for their graphics software and ability to have a free account for up to ten images a month.

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Using Autocrit to combat combat fatigue

IF YOU DO YOUR OWN EDITING, BE MERCILESS

Despite the recommendations of every editor on the planet, some of us do our own*.

Editing’s no different from any of the other tasks a self-publisher tackles:

  • You are not going to do it perfectly
  • It is a skill – and you are not born with it
  • Learning has many steps
  • There are books which will teach you (or you can take a class)
  • It takes time to do it well
  • It is not inexpensive – if you count your time
  • The professionals started somewhere
  • The results are there for everyone to see
  • No matter what you do, someone will criticize you
  • There are objective standards – but not everyone agrees what they are
  • There is great satisfaction in doing it yourself

Why do your own editing?

Because, in the long run, everything you learn makes you a better writer. Because you can. Because it is always available, on your own time schedule, at your own price (but don’t forget that the time you spend editing might be better spent writing). Because you can’t afford what a good editor costs, and a bad one is useless.

In my case, because I am incapable of interacting with someone else about my own work. Call it a feature – or a bug.

How to have an editing program assist you

After I have almost everything written, polished, listened to, and in what I consider final form, I run it through AutoCrit – and all of the COUNTING it does for me:

  • Duplicate words.
  • Overused words.
  • Two-, three-, and four-word phrases repeated (ouch – unless deliberate).
  • Unusual words.
  • Cliches.
  • Generic words.
  • My own personal word list.
  • Adverbs.

Each and every one of these flagged items gets put through a wringer: Context. Intent. The possibility of synonyms, and a consideration of nuance. Number of repetitions. Whether the repetition is by accident or design.

In other words, everything that has bitten me before.

What I don’t let it ‘help’ me with

Anything else.

Why? Because I don’t trust its judgment on ‘passive voice,’ or ‘subject verb agreement,’ or ‘tense.’ Or ‘readability.’

I have a set, but complex, style. Autocrit doesn’t see italics, for example, but I signal to the reader that something is a direct thought by changing to first person and putting the text in italics. So if you read:

There is no way I’m telling him that.

you’ll know it’s a more intense thought, in those exact words, than general internal monologue:

She wasn’t going to tell him that.

It’s too complicated for an automatic program.

But the counting alone is an amazing help for me

When and where I need it.

This is my reason for having a lifetime membership – my brain is tired more than lazy all the time due to chronic illness and disability, so I let it serve up the most convenient word WHEN WRITING. But I’m not going to let first words stand – not without a raze-to-the-ground fight.

Because my readers deserve the best I can provide on the LANGUAGE side of the writing.

Self-editing with a program is a tool

It takes a fair amount of time per scene, but I think of it as the best investment of that time I can make, because the final product is improved in so many ways. I look for strong verbs instead of verb + adverb combinations, more precise nouns instead of common nouns, and also places where I can reinforce a motif or thread I want to keep.

And I don’t have to count or do the time-consuming searches because Autocrit is merciless.

Last tip

After the scene is polished through this process, I put it through several of the steps one final time – because I have had the experience of working on synonyms and nuance, and finding out that to reduce the count of one way of saying things, I have increased the count of another!

*Adapted from an online comment – you may have seen some of this material before.

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Do you use an editing program to improve your own writing?

How?

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Locked down with the virus at the door

STRESSORS TO THE RIGHT OF US, STRESSORS TO THE LEFT

If you live in a retirement community, you are surrounded by vulnerable people – it is the nature of the beast.

Once you move here, they become your friends and neighbors, and you care what happens to them, to the facility, and to yourself in the place you have chosen for your ‘forever home.’

When you get the WEEKLY notice of the results of testing (the whole staff is now being tested once a week):

  1. A private duty aide tested positive.
    • We received results on 8/20.
    • We have not identified prolonged direct exposure to other staff members.
    • This individual provided care for 5 residents. Each of these individuals has been contacted and will be tested. None of these 5 residents are believed to have had any contact with other residents or staff.

and you realize that those in charge are thinking that they will have to continue ‘at least two more weeks as a result of the positive case,’ you also realize they are living in a dream world where, without treatment, cure, or vaccine, they think it’s going to get better – OR they’re saying that because they think WE might feel better – you realize you are living in a situation that you have no control over, and it will continue for a very long time to come.

Everyone is under stress ALL the time

We took the not-fun stress of getting older, old enough to move into a place where you are no longer responsible for a house and yard, and moved.

We haven’t recovered, not really, from the move.

We have never quite completely moved in – the assistant we were hiring is not permitted to come in and help because she is not considered ‘essential.’

The ‘private duty aides’ ARE essential – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a life, a home, kids, families – and go home to them every day.

We live in a web of interconnections

The reason we are here is because we estimate that some point in the future we will need the help the aides provide, and it is much easier to do it through a facility than one of us caring for the other.

Our kids will probably never all live close, and we made this move so they wouldn’t become caretakers or even arrangers of care, because, with all the good will in the world, it is a humongous job to take care of parents.

None of us planned for such a far-reaching and deadly pandemic.

Je Ne Regrette Rien – moving was the right decision.

But we were going to move, dump the house and responsibilities, and travel – from a home base which we could just turn the key on and forget.

We’re in the age group where, if we take reasonable care, we could expect to live another 30 years. I want to go home to Mexico to visit my family. I want to find a way to do some gentle travel to Europe. If I ever get a bit better, I would love to ski again.

Or hike. Or camp (even in an RV instead of a tent).

With the kids, I want to do a family vacation every year, so they stay connected with us and with each other, and we have fun.

There has been a kink in the plans.

I struggle every day to write, while at the same time fully realizing that stress kills, and there is too much on everyone right now.

Here is a stress inventory.

It is good to take one periodically, to see if things are under control, and if they are getting better or worse.

IIRC, inventory numbers over 300 are practically a direct warning of major illness coming soon, and lower numbers are not ignorable.

I don’t dare take the inventory right now.

Instead, I am taking every possible relaxation approach to dealing with what I know is there.

An important part of dealing with stress is simply acknowledging it

And looking for a time in the (we hope near) future when it will be less.

Which is what we were aiming for, until the latest notice from the county which put the kibosh on using the outdoor pool (which was about to go from 3 to 5 days a week) – because of a new menace, FIRES!

And realizing that others have it far worse than we do.

So, when it gets stressful, I blog – and dump some of it.

Records, records, records

I’m also recording for posterity, as these post are part of the ‘accidental autobiography’ I’m creating by writing bits and pieces in a series of places: emails to friends, notes on the computer, annotations in the Production File I have open for every scene I write, blog posts, and the unlikely storage in social media.

I just requested a current copy of my Facebook information – and will store it on the external hard drive.

Wattpad deleted the forums – and did not give us a chance to do that – so I lost all my forum activity.

I did download everything I created for my Patreon account – some of which may be used again down the line if I serialize the second book, NETHERWORLD.

And I also realize that this is of importance to no one but myself.

And remind myself that I need to create a document for our children which summarizes the information about the family that they might like to have when we’re gone.

ASK YOURSELF what you need to do to reduce stress – and what you need to record for the future – and do it one of these days. Tell us in the comments!

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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!

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Tiny touch of normalcy in the middle of a pandemic

Schwinn Meridian Adult Tricycle, 26-inch wheels, rear storage basket,  Cherry - Walmart.com - Walmart.com

NORMAL FEELS GOOD, EVEN MASKED

Episode #1 – The Affair of the Tricycle Seat Repair

This isn’t my tricycle – mine is a mystery brand – but it is extremely similar. One of the things that was normal this past week was a trip to the Tinker’s Den, my first.

Here at URC, an early resident refused to move in unless he was allowed to bring his basement workshop and woodworking tools. So they accommodated him by building a room off the corner of the south underground garage, and named it the Tinker’s Den. That was 20 years ago, and the workshop is used by a variety of people doing projects.

Well, earlier in the week I finally took the trike seat off because something was wrong and it had way too much side movement, but I hadn’t been able to see what was wrong while it was attached.

When I got it upstairs, I figured out the where the seat was attached to the post, a nut had come off of a bolt, and the bolt was sitting diagonally at an odd angle, attaching nothing.

To make the story short, I called Tenney, the resident whose name is listed for the Den, and we spent an enjoyable if somewhat frustrating hour or so taking the seat apart to get at the bolt, finding a replacement one (the one on the trike must be metric, so our nut jar didn’t have a suitable replacement), and putting the whole back together – and having a nice chat as I helped.

I miss doing that in the basement of our New Jersey house, where I had a full workshop – and plenty of nuts and bolts in jars before we moved. Of course, there had been no need to use a workshop for two years here.


Episode #2: The Affair of the Head Shot

The other bit of normal life was another request of another resident: I have arranged to have an interview of me as a writer published on a blog, and the blogger kindly sent me a list of questions – and a request for a photo.

On her site, I saw that the photos of other authors were much better quality and definition than the snapshot cutouts I have normally used before (yes, I knew I’d have to do something about it some day, but when you’re indie, there are a lot of things on the list).

In any case, when we came to URC, Marion had done a very nice job with her very good camera of taking pictures for the Resident Directory, so I asked if she would take a few for me for the purpose of a head shot – and she kindly agreed.

We settled on Friday morning at 11 (I cannot guarantee being up and functional earlier, though I often am, and I didn’t want to have to call, bleary-eyed, and reschedule).

She had walked around a couple of days before at that time so as to find some good backdrops among the greenery, so we set off to take pictures, her walking (she’s 91), and me on Maggie2.

And spent about an hour using various pieces of greenery as backdrops – and then she put the twenty or so photos on a flash stick which I downloaded to my computer last night.

We were masked, and stayed the required 6 feet apart for most of the time, but talked as we went, and I am so grateful because we have no idea when real normal will return, and I was dreading the whole process (I don’t usually like my pictures), but quite a few of the ones she took are very good. She is amazing.

She was surprised that I want to do the photo editing myself, something I’m reasonably competent at – but I’m really not good at selfies, and an outside photo place is not in the cards right now.


Episode #3: The book blogger reads

And finally, I found out via Mention, where I set up a request that sends me an email when Pride’s Children PURGATORY is mentioned anywhere on the web, that a book blogger whose site Written Among the Stars I visit regularly (she does very good reviews) has started to read it, and her thoughts thus far are:

“This was another one that the writing style took me a little while to jump into to and I was a bit concerned that maybe the story just wasn’t for me. It didn’t take long though for me to catch up and really start to enjoy myself. I adore Andrew. He is quirky, funny, smarmy and just so much fun.”

You know how hard it can be to persuade someone to read something different – and all authors try to find sources for more reviews – so I am very happy that she persisted, and am looking forward to hear what she thinks of the whole.


Little things matter when you’ve been in quarantine a long time.

Please use the comments to tell your stories of what makes you feel normal right now!


 

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.


 

There is only one way to the ending

DO YOU TRUST YOUR AUTHOR?

And it goes THROUGH the plot, through the characters, through the planning that an extreme plotter like me goes into great detail to connect.

Novels start with ‘WHAT IF?”

And must continue to the bitter end, or their promise is compromised by the very one who created them, because of FEAR.

I admit it. It’s going to get rough, very rough, for my characters – as I’ve known since this story came to me.

There is no way this ‘WHAT IF?’ works – except my way. The way I designed to answer that question TWENTY YEARS AGO.

A great portion of that time has been spent making sure it is the ONLY way I can write THIS story.

The Resistance Journal tells the story

Saturday July 25, 2020 at 6:02 PM

All I need to do is in front of me: finish this scene, finish the next, … – get on with it.
Nothing is going to change in the plot.
I can’t make it sweeter or more palatable – and it is NECESSARY.


And then … steps up and decides to fight for what … wants.
This is what I’m writing.
This is what I designed.
This is what’s foretold in the …
Nothing has changed.

I have removed (…) the pieces that would give away too much of the plot.

The angst is real. Writers bleed with their characters.

We don’t LIKE causing pain: it is NECESSARY.

Our characters have to grow, change, evolve, show us the consequences of their decisions in their lives – because this is the entire purpose of fiction: showing readers what happens when different life choices are made.

Have readers ever thought about this?

I know I never did, as a reader. When Agatha Christie killed someone off, I never wondered if it caused her personal pain.

When Dorothy L. Sayers denied her detective the woman he loved, I cried (metaphorically) into my (metaphorical) hanky – but I never wondered much what it cost Sayers.

Now I understand – because I WRITE

No mother ever reared a child without that child crying. Not successfully, anyway.

Not with a child who grew up with the tools to become an adult (they still have to do so much work after we leave them be).

Writers get to be judge, jury, and executioner.

We also get to commit the crime, and be the detective, and work in the hospital where the crushed bodies come in to be healed.

This is what we do:

We torture characters after we make readers care for them.

To show their humanity.

It’s getting harder.

My beta reader tells me she gets what I’m doing.

She calls me a horrible person, too. Which is fine.

You don’t get to have an influence without challenging the status quo.

And it’s going to get a lot worse before it’s better.

I promise: eventually it will be better.

But it has to be EARNED.

Thanks for listening

It’s particularly hard right now.

And I worry about whether readers will decide this is the place where they stop reading.

But then I remember they sat through The Silence of the Lambs.

I’m not THAT bad.

And I mean well. Really.