Category Archives: Short posts

It’s that time: typo hunting time

THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD

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

What is a practical limit for the number of typos?

A little checking provides a couple of rough guidelines:

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

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

The kind of errors matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paying for professional proofing

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

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

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

So wish me well on what is the final proofing:

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

Embarrassing – but I am grateful for every catch.

And vow to learn from them.

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

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May 12 is International ME/CFS Day

Millions of ME/CFS victims are missing from LIFE

Every year this date reminds me that we STILL have no diagnostic marker, treatment, or cure for the devastating disease that stole my life as a physicist in 1989, the week of Nov. 5th.

Another year with nothing really new that can turn me back into a functioning person.

Or even help new victims.

Except that this year there is an understanding that, if we didn’t know what virus had done the damage, ALMOST ALL of the long-covid victims would be diagnosed, based on symptoms, with ME.

But we know that virus, and possibly that will help some of the targeted research that now has been funded to figure out the mechanism of the damage and find a way to reverse some of it.

And maybe, MAYBE, some of that research will benefit newer victims of ME/CFS, and possibly – though the damage is so long-standing it’s hard to think how – those of us who have been waiting for decades.

If you pray, pray for us.

If you’re not the praying kind, think of us kindly.

We’re still sick – and I wouldn’t wish this illness on Putin.

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Meanwhile, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is still in existence because of ME/CFS, and NETHERWORLD will be out very soon (the disease makes me very slow).

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Having trouble writing a promised review?

SAY THANK YOU! TO A FAVORITE AUTHOR

And they cost the reader nothing but a few minutes.

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

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

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

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

Rosie Amber’s Review Templates

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

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

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

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

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

Authors positively LOVE reviews.

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Where have all the bloggers gone?

Inspired by Where have all the flowers gone? Popular folk song

WANTED: INTERESTING BLOG POSTS ABOUT LIFE AND WRITING

If you’re of a certain age, or ever went to Scout camp, you may already been humming along.

I’m having to sign up to follow and receive via email more and more blogs, because the bloggers I’ve been following for years are publishing fewer and fewer posts, and I need reading material to keep myself centered in the writer-support blogosphere I inhabit.

I write fewer posts because most of my posts have had something to do with the skills I acquired while learning to write – and I’m not actively working on those right now unless I find something I need to learn to get through a current scene.

Because I’m getting to the end of Netherworld – and know exactly where I’m going.

And there aren’t any tricky or new scenes – just the kind of wrapping up I’m hoping will put smiles on readers’ faces, followed by worried frowns about the implications!

I use writers’ blogs to stay up-to-date

I haven’t done marketing in a while (and it shows) because I have two brain cells, and one is needed for breathing, while the other takes an occasional turn at writing a few more words.

But one of these days someone will post something which will trigger something else, and I’ll be off and running.

There are lots of beginner ‘How to’ posts, fewer post on marketing, and almost none on marketing a very small output. At least not successfully.

So I take on new blogs

when I find one which has something a little less basic to say, or is in an area I probably won’t write – hoping to steal the genesis of an idea I can tweak into the book-selling campaign of the century.

I’d appreciate suggestions of blogs to follow, especially if you wouldn’t mind telling me what you like about them.

New platforms may be the problem

I don’t think I’m going to try Instagram or Tik Tok or Book Tok or even Twitter – mostly because I don’t think that’s where my kind of writer finds readers and followers.

Certainly not Youtube – not now! The competition must be fierce.

Trying a Patreon was a waste of time for me (this time) because you have to bring your own followers – and then generate extra material for them. The latter I like – I have lots of words about process and writing – but I don’t have yet the critical mass of followers, and, with very little energy, can’t afford to try.

But a lot of people ARE moving to the new platforms – the young ‘uns don’t use FB much any more.

Where are the readers?

To be more specific for me, where are the readers of mainstream/literary/contemporary fiction, but only those who are not hiding behind the wall of ‘I only read traditionally published and vetted fiction.’

And that, my dear readers, I have not solved yet.

But then I spend most of my time writing lately, and ultimately that will have to yield the answer.

So I try each new blog I find through blogs I already read or people who somehow find me, and participate for a while to see if we are a good fit. There are tens of thousands of my words out there contributing to these fun conversations.

Eventually we will reach critical mass, right?

I’d hate to think the indie experiment is doomed.

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Send me your recommended blogs.

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When the WIP forces change on your writing style

I’VE BEEN STRUGGLING WITH A NEW CONUNDRUM

I didn’t expect to, not this late in the middle book of a trilogy.

I capture these thoughts when they happen, hoping to have something to refer to when it happens again.

The constraint here is both the calendar – the end is near, and the content until the last scene is what it has to be – and a sense of pace.

In the real world, things have their own importance, and can’t be hurried – or slowed. Their pace is what their pace is.

In fiction, however, technically every bit is under the immediate and complete control of the writer – nothing happens without her say so – and completely not. Why? Because the pace you work hard to develop as you go seems to have a built-in speed you didn’t put there.

I’m not used to this

All pantsers are familiar with this.

Whereas I, an extreme plotter, like to think I’m in control of everything.

The story takes over.

And you bumble around in the dark until you learn.

Oh, and try doing this with WRITER brain fog!

You can’t write chaos smoothly

But it can’t be completely chaotic stream-of-consciousness either, not for very long on the page: the Reader won’t stand for it.

So it’s a mixture, and, from deep third multiple pov, you have to credibly present a chaotic situation for a character you’ve already developed (starting that way in Chapter 1 or with a new character is a different ballgame), and who is usually much less confused.

So you will get a little indulgence from your audience, but don’t want to presume on that – or they’ll start skimming, and you’ve lost them.

Balance.

So, another skill attempted in the craft.

I wonder what the beta reader will say.

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If you’re a reader, do you notice this kind of thing? And how much patience do you have for a change in how you see characters, especially when they’re under stress?

If you’re a writer, has this one bitten your ankles?

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One way to encourage a writer

When you are reaching the end of writing a novel, it looks as if you’ll never finish.

Encouragement comes in odd places:

  • a reader wanting to know when the next one is out
  • sales you didn’t expect, didn’t advertise for
  • the writing going particularly well
  • a tough section written
  • and a review that blows your metaphorical socks off (one gets so jaded).

This morning, my inbox contained a link to that kind of review, and I encourage those who are here for the fiction to take a quick look at the books’ sister site, Pride’s Children . com, and sign up there if they haven’t – because NETHERWORLD will be here early next year, and that encouragement keeps me focused.

An encouraged and supported writer (thanks to all my visitors and commenters and fellow bloggers and friends from FB and GR – you know who you are, and I hope you know how important you are) is a happy writer, and is probably writing much better than a discouraged one.

I don’t buy the drugs-and-alcohol motivated writer narrative (one reason being because my body doesn’t process alcohol fast enough and I don’t tolerate most meds), so I have to go on HAPPINESS, the universal salve.

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Sleep and lowered stress would be nice, too, and research to treat and cure this dratted disease (ME/CFS). I’m doing the best that I can.

Reduced brain fog would be ideal.

I’m doing the best that I can.

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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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