Tag Archives: blog construction

Life happens in between story moments

FENCE, WALL – THAT WAY IS BLOCKED

Where is the rest of life? FRIDAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is boring

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

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

This makes the future scarier

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

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

I hope that doesn’t happen too soon.

Meanwhile, I cope day-to-day

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

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

The big ones

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

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

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

And the very worst of all

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How’s your weekend going?

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

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Writers have only so many hours

Desktop with coffee and office supplies. Text: The longer the to do list, the less efficiently I handle it. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

OF 24 HOURS IN A DAY, 2 OR 3 OF THEM ARE GOOD

I mourn the loss of reading material online, which is hypocritical of me, as I’m also NOT producing any of it myself on a regular basis. Blog post reading material, that is.

With me, having two main tasks on the plate is a stretch. Right now I have several – and the blogging has suffered.

I apologize for the self-centered post to follow, but it may explain the hiatus a bit.

The A1 task has become ‘finding a place to live.’

I am vetting Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in California, with a few in NJ and PA for comparison.

I had hoped we’d be out of here by now, resting after our labors in a new community, preferably in California (land of better weather and my birth), with the time-consuming search behind us, and nothing more challenging, apart from my fiction, than using the new pool and gym and having dinner with other compatible residents.

The problem: it is a ‘forever home,’ and will require quite a lot of our money over the coming years, and, even though we could change once we got there if we didn’t like the one we picked, we’d be older, possibly frailer, and it would be a physical and financial challenge.

So, pick well – and give the community the rest of your life.

So, picking well is crucial. And hard.

The A2 task has become ‘get rid of this house.’

The reason we’re moving, and not aging in place, is that THIS house and yard and my lovely perennial garden consumes way too much of our energy, and our social life is diminishing to the vanishing point as OTHER people leave. And the common-in-this-day: our children do not live near us or each other, and that won’t change.

My mother, in Mexico City, is lovingly taken care of by a rotating staff of three aides – supervised by my whole family. I can’t expect that – no extended family here. I hope we get the kids to supervise when we’re older, but it will be remotely most of the time. We had our children very late as we established OUR careers, and they are barely getting started in many ways – one of the unforseen consequences of me listening to all the people who said you could wait. Plus I never expected to be sick. 28 years this November.

We are being responsible with time, money, and our wishes, and setting ourselves up now, BEFORE the crisis that usually precipitates moving (often then into Assisted Living or a Nursing Home) for older adults.

We also plan to enjoy the freer lifestyle – there is no point to having a suburban house unless you have a lot of family or friends there frequently. One of my ambitions is the ability to travel – because the grass is not our problem, nor the drains, nor freezing pipes… You get the picture.

Many of my generation are starting to see the benefits, and doing the same thing: move while you can enjoy the Independent Living part of the new place, be already situated in a place you chose when you need more care.

So: DEJUNK the place, fix it up, sell it – find new place, move in, fix it up a bit. Unfortunately, for someone like me, this is the same as a To Do list item: climb Everest.

The A3 task is: finish my dad’s last tax return

And do Mother’s for the last couple of years.

I finally got one step further on this task.

A bit of background: as the only child in the States, it has always been my duty to take care of such things as my parents needed. They were both American, and lived in Mexico. And my Daddy was, if not secretive, definitely of the older generation, which kept things close to their chests – especially finances – because it was nobody’s business but theirs. Daddy always paid whatever taxes he owed to the USA as an expat. He was a WWII veteran, and an honest man. I miss him a lot. I don’t get there to see Mother nearly enough – and it is a hugely exhausting trip for me.

That wasn’t a problem, but the orderly transition of information was never made, and a bunch of things had to be regenerated or reconstructed after Daddy died, and the IRS made this rather difficult because there were pieces I had to justify acquiring.

Needless to go into detail, but I now have the information I need to file those tax returns, which means that job goes to the head of the queue, as it has been several years. It wasn’t CRITICAL, because there will be no taxes OWED (fines are based on unpaid taxes), but I really don’t want to have to carry that paperwork with me as we move, and risk both losing it, and having the whole filing be postponed MUCH longer.

The A4 task is: writing Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD (formerly A1).

This is the real reason for fewer posts: the writing is happening when I have the brain and the energy, and I’m much farther along than before. Book over blog posts.

On bad days, if I can write at all, the text seems leaden and ungraceful, but I plow ahead, and have been pleasantly surprised to find that the graceless prose requires far less work to bring it up to my standards than I expected: being tired and low while writing doesn’t get in the way of the fact that the PROCESS I use is solid.

Though, as I stated in a comment recently on FB, no one in their right mind would use my process.

But it WORKS for me, still allows me to put together this vast story by creating tiny individual mosaic tiles to cement into the solid overall framework with some tweaking but no loss. I marvel at this. It’s taken twenty years+ of writing to get to this point, of knowing exactly what to do (except for the art part – that comes from no conscious process I can see or summon): gather everything I have decided must go in a scene, and the process plus subconscious turns it into a short story.

Because that’s how I see every scene: a short story, as complete in itself as I can make it (without the redundancy of creating the world anew each time).

The A4′ task is: marketing Pride’s Children: PURGATORY (formerly A2).

With only one of me, and so much effort in the marketing department being unfruitful (you have no idea how much time I’ve spent on Amazon ads this year, but it was a huge commitment which hasn’t panned out, but may, one of these days), and that me being so low energy, it is currently stalled.

And likely to be ignored a lot, while at the same time I mourn having no sales or borrow except the occasional one I generate at great effort by hand. I’m mourning a lot of things right now – what’s one more?

But this one is actually a drain on the spirit, even though I hope the publication of more works will be the promised kick to sales of Book 1. This is practically an indie promise: write more books, and you will do better.

Which begs entirely the question: nothing will happen without marketing, and marketing two or three is more work.

The rest of the list: singing, a bit of socializing, life.

Less of all that every day – my folk group singing is yielding to the reality that I’ve been in this group for years, if not decades, and every single one of us is that much older – and now finding it hard to drive at night. In its current form, its days are numbered. We’re singing along, waiting for the old dear to have one of those crises I wrote about above.

I thought I had lost my choir singing on Sundays; after the stents, the meds gave me anxiety and panic attacks of major proportions, and I’ve written about the Post-Traumatic Stress created, but most of that seems under control since I am NOT on the meds (and I’m doing my cardiac rehab in the basement, thanks for asking, three times a week). I’m actually better at climbing the stairs to the crypt of the Princeton chapel where we practice (NOTE: shortness of breath IS a sign of possible artery blockage – you aren’t getting enough oxygen!). Now I’m worried about the voice part, which I always knew would happen some day, but it may get a bit better, at least until we leave, if the STRESS level drops. Singing is largely breath support, and stress makes that harder.

And the socializing, when it happens, really wipes me out – but is psychologically necessary. I look forward to it being less stressful in the CCRC, or why move? And I will be missing all my friends, which won’t help. I’ve asked to go to the annual folk-singing picnic by Skype.

That’s the update.

There sure has been a lot of adrenaline – which I handle badly – attached to these events and their outcomes, and the ability to cope, which involves being able to really rest for at least a half hour out of every three, has been severely compromised (and I have no idea how it will go when we visit 5-8 CCRCs in California in the 10-day or so trip I still have to plan).

But I am hopeful.

And I am WRITING many more days than not.

And I am making PROGRESS on NETHERWORLD, which is REALLY the A1.

Peace to all of you. How are you?

For your trouble, here is an epigraph from Chapter 22:


The heart does not rest
For at battle with itself
It can never win.

Tahiro Mizuki,
trans. by R. Heath


My appreciation, again, to Stencil for allowing me to produce the graphics which head many of my posts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiction: the SECOND-BEST path to empathy

DIRECT EXPERIENCE BEST PATH TO EMPATHY?

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

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

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

Because direct experience doesn’t include another person.

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

Fiction is a largely underused way to deliberately develop empathy

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

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

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

I’m reproducing the whole post here:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading is just you and the book.

Oh, and the author.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author’s power is very real.

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

Sounds horribly preachy, doesn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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


Why repost my own post?

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

 

The slow posts of summer 2017

THE SUMMER SLOW DOWN IS ACTUALLY A SPEED UP

This is a stub, a placeholder, a tente-en-pié (keep you on your feet), an appetizer – lagniappe?

Any one of those words that means a quick update and not a thought-out post with a point.

Why? Because when other bloggers stop blogging, I worry a bit.

Don’t want you to worry. There have been no recent crises – Yay!

On the To Do list:

Writing NETHERWORLD. Yup. Main A1 priority that keeps getting a day here, a day there (the least efficient way for me to write). And publishing Too Late.

Finding a permanent place to live – for which I have, up to now, processed more than 110 CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities), most of them in California, to see if we can 1) afford them, and 2) find a community we’ll fit into.

Paperwork for my Dad’s estate, too long on the to do list, but the IRS has made each simple step complicated. I will persevere.

Getting healthier. Here I would like to report slightly better walking capacity (after days and days and days of lower back strengthening exercises), and continued cardiac rehab (though I haven’t been able to increase it much since I started, I’m now into my fifth month, which is some kind of record).

Dejunking the house prior to getting it on the market. This means the Christmas tree came down this week. You may applaud.

I think that’s the major ones.

CCRCs in California

The why? It’s drier (humidity and I don’t get along), and the places we’re looking at have better weather. I have been warned – not all places in California have ideal weather. The spouse put me onto the idea of getting an idea of each city from Wikipedia (who knew each has a page?). If there is a Climate section, the little graphic illustrates temperatures, rainfall, and sometimes humidity for a year – which is exactly what I need to compare, say, Sta. Barbara and Bakersfield (nice, not so nice).

I now have had hour-long conversations with about 21 salespeople (the shorter list), along with getting electronic and snail mailed information, and followups. I learned a lot.

The basic information on the websites seems to be 1) we have apartments and/or cottages, and 2) we are the best CCRC in California. So there’s some hype.

Considering that one of the major decision factors is cost, you’d think they’d be a bit more up-front, but if there is information at all, it is usually, ‘from (quotes entrance fee for tiniest unit and monthly fee for one person in it.’

Not very useful or realistic, and I hate to hang up the minute someone tells me the actual numbers (which implies I couldn’t go). The reality is that we have some choice in the matter, but a place is going to have to be perfect for us to go for the higher costs (and most of the for-profit places in the San Francisco area are simply not an option).

I’m to the point of running numbers past a calculator and guesstimating some scenarios on how long we’ll live (always a fun exercise) and how long we’ll need what kind of expensive assistance to do so.

Dejunking is slow going

Not because I can’t get rid of stuff, but because doing so requires me to give my assistant (who’s been a little erratic due to real problems) permission: ever single item in this house not in my husband’s office is my problem.

And some of it has to be kept around so the house doesn’t look razed when we show it.

My brain will tackle that problem far better when it doesn’t need to do phone calls and financial calculations with its little bit of energy, and we have a very short list of places we would willingly move to tomorrow.

And when the heat and humidity abate a bit, and we can stand to dejunk the garage some more.

It’s amazing how much stuff goes when an assistant takes it to its next owner for you (or makes it disappear). Until you get down to family photos and the CD collection you always meant to put on a hard drive.

Exercise, walking, etc.

Here I have to be extremely careful. We CFS folk can overdo things in an instant – and have to pay for it with days of getting nothing done, and huge amounts of extra rest.

I’m so far over capacity already with all the extra stuff on top of what I had before that all I have to do is go to a meeting with the financial advisor (a short meeting, he said – ’twasn’t) to lose two days.

I’m looking forward to living in a CCRC where the plan will be: write in the morning; get more fit/relax/float in the pool/do a short stint in the gym/walk to dinner, in the evening.

I swear.

Meanwhile I have to keep the spine from insisting on more surgery (so far, so good, and I don’t trust any of the surgeons I’ve seen). This requires daily exercise and stretching. Lots. The stronger the spine gets, what do you know: the easier the walking has become.

But we’re talking micrometers. I know – husband can’t even tell. And it’s made me do things I shouldn’t have done (leaving the walker in the car for something that turns out to be a longer walk than I planned is the #1 problem).

And the perennial: removing a few pounds from the joints would probably help; meanwhile, don’t add any.

Removing all cardiac meds made a huge difference to all of the above – zombies aren’t good at becoming healthier. Doctor doesn’t even want to see me for six months; BP and HR are behaving themselves nicely with meditation and rest and the rehab (I guess – had to tell).

The career as novelist

Taking a bit of a beating right now, but moving.

The biggest other time-eater is learning and running Amazon ads. I find I don’t do well when the sales are way down (depressing) because I’m not hand-selling, and going viral isn’t happening on its own.

Which means advertising. The last email I got (review pending) had ‘Loved it!’ four times in a row, so I do have a tiny tribe, but I have no reach – and everyone else on the planet (with energy) is writing bunches more books and ads.

I’m trying various targeting ideas. If any of them work…

But the very best time I spend, exhausted or not, is when I’m in Bianca’s skin (today) or Andrew’s skin (last week) or being Kary for a while (right before that). And that’s still good, if a little claustrophobic: I have to get awfully close before I can write them.

Drop a line

How’s YOUR summer going?

 

 

 

 

 

How to fix post holiday blues

Bleak winter landscape with one tree. Text: Trouble starting a new year is normal, Alicia Butcher EhrhardtUNIQUE TO DO LIST ITEMS DRIVE ME CRAZY

It’s surprisingly hard to get back to some kind of routine after holidays and a year ending – so many one-of-a-kind items – from tax paperwork to getting parking stickers for the next term to all those doctor’s appointments which have been put off to seeing friends in town for only a few days.

I am ready for all that to be over, and get back to routine, any kind of routine. Even snow – which is predicted for this weekend.

I should be writing up a storm – instead of chasing down the meter reading on the solar panels.

Anyone else in the same slump?

PWCs (people with CFS) handle change very badly

We’re bad enough with things we do routinely, such as laying out today’s pills, and watering the plants.

But each new thing attempted requires the use of a scarce resource: good time (i.e., when the brain is on).

I normally reserve that time for writing, and have ‘FIGHT for the RIGHT to WRITE‘ where I can see it easily.

But this time of year – between the end of one and the slipping-into-routine beginning of the next year – is a constant barrage of exceptions.

EVERYTHING claws its way to the top of the priority list

We have a solar system. On the first of the month I get an email which reminds me to send in the meter reading so they can credit us with SRECs (solar credits – don’t ask me to stop and look up the acronym!) so that we will eventually get a small check for any excess energy we pour back into the grid. There was a $500 extra cost when we were required to pay for and install a new meter (the government wouldn’t take our reading of the old one) if we wanted it to wirelessly send the solar company the reading – and of course we said no thanks.

The idea is that, once a month on being reminded of the need to send this information, I will go down to the basement, read the meter, and, while down there, perform the cleaning of the system that involves pouring bleach into the pipes and the pump, which will otherwise grow algae.

Except that I’m now having to force myself to at least go down to the basement once a day, because moving is difficult, the heart rate goes up, and my chest hurts if I do stairs. And yes, I have an appointment to visit a cardiologist for reassurance/whatever already scheduled.

So it had to be done, now – and I cheated. I just got the number and emailed it in and didn’t do the maintenance part. Which means half of the task – and a trip to the basement out of no energy – is still pending.

I am probably not unique

Everyone has these things on their lists; everyone has more stuff to do at the end of the year and beginning of another.

But I’m drowning, my assistant hasn’t made it for a week (she’s sick, on top of the holidays), and there is no end in sight.

Why am I telling you any of this?

Because I normally blog – and I have 30-40 half done posts, none of which I seem to be able to finish.

Not being able to finish a blog post is new to me, and I’m scratching my head. I understand how writing doesn’t get done – I can’t focus if I know I’m going to be interrupted in 15 minutes – but I hadn’t realized how even blogging needs some coherence.

I’ve been worried about obvious mental deterioration, and then I realized this morning that I’m probably not unique, but I am getting older, and changes in habitation location are coming, as well as a whole slew of problems related to that, and that the world probably won’t come to an end if I don’t have my handicapped parking space set up before this Sunday (another task which took time this morning) but that it was wise of me to try calling on a working day (they assure me it’s in the works, but they were just off for eleven days).

I’m working on it

That’s my motto for everything.

I will get to it, whatever ‘it’ is. Eventually.

Routine will return.

I will be able to finish something (I’m almost ready to hit ‘post’).

And now I go to find the proposal from 2004 from the HVAC people that shows we paid for – and didn’t receive – a duct cleaning back then. Because I promised the lady I’d send it today. Because THEY shred their records older than ten years – and I never throw anything out.

Because $300 is not peanuts.

Oh, well.

Happy New Year to all of my bemused readers (bemused at this odd post, not bemused themselves).

Stay warm (or cool, if you’re in the southern hemisphere). Breathe. Pray for the crazy lady.

Peace out.

You, too?

 

What to write when your house is under attack

Squirrel on snow holding red berry. Test Life hands you berries? Make berry chiffon pie. Alicia Butcher EhrhardtSOMETIMES YOU HAVE FEW CHOICES – DO YOUR BEST

Those of you who know how noise sensitive I am will realize this is a bit of a torment – I’m stuck in my own home with two guys tramping around with hoses, air guns, a powerful vacuum, and one of them is a trainee who must be shouted at.

We are having our ducts cleaned.

It hasn’t been done since the house was built in 1981.

I must stay because where the heck would I go? And because I must be the one who manages Gizzy, our chinchilla who hates noise more than I do.

I am, of course, sitting here with my noise protection head-gear; for some of the noises, it is barely enough. Four hours (est.) of this is going to feel great – it presses my head to do a good sound blocking job, but, hey, it’s better than the other options. I took the ibuprofen for the headache already: what a coincidence, you can take more in four hours!

 Who knew that the inside of heating ducts got dusty?

Isn’t that what the filters are for?

Me, I grew up in a country without central air (Mexico) because it never got so hot that you needed air-conditioning, or so cold that the fireplace wouldn’t handle it those few nights a year when outside was chilly.

So, no ducts.

When I lived in Seattle, radiators. No ducts.

In grad school in Madison, Wisconsin – radiators.

First house was in Maryland – and even though we had central air and heating, we only had that house three years, and no changes were necessary. So we didn’t learn then.

Then, this house – and how was I supposed to know you had to hire a very short person to climb inside your ducts to clean them? Periodically? Job security for elves?

Last time – eleven years ago – when they replaced the HVAC, we actually PAID to have the ducts cleaned. But somehow it slipped our mind, and we never had them actually come do the job. (They’re looking into giving us our money back!)

Perfect time to write a blog post of the light-weight variety

Honestly, most of you who need to know this probably already do.

When people mention TV shows of their childhood, they are often surprised that I never saw them.

When people mention their English teachers being good or terrible in high school, college, creative writing or MFA program (or even the esoteric PhD in Literature), I realize I’ve never had but one English teacher, and that in a course I apparently didn’t need to take (after I’ve taken it, I find this out. No matter: I actually enjoyed a teacher who pranced around in front of the class spouting Shakespeare – because I’d never had one).

So, of course, I don’t know about duct cleaning.

I made the mistake of asking

Well, apparently most people don’t ask (maybe they just get out of there).

The nice young man-in-charge from the plumbing company must not get enough chances to expound, because we got a long spiel on the details of the process (which requires making holes in places with a drill). Enthusiastic lad.

All I wanted to know was the order of operations.

It turns out they basically don’t care. After doing certain things, they will go through each room and clean our the air supply vents. What order they do bedrooms in is not important.

So I will have them clean my office ducts, and then, while they’re doing something to the attic bedroom, I’ll scoot Gizzy in here, where she will promptly hide inside my upholstered armchair (she hates light, too), and go to sleep. Or into a state of shock. It’s hard to tell.

What will I be doing?

After delighting you with trivia like the above, I will play sudoku, surf the web, and generally waste the whole time.

Because there isn’t a chance in h-e-double hockey sticks that my brain will be able to do anything like writing fiction.

Or paperwork that I’ve been avoiding.

Or (coherent) phone calls. And the other kind, really, don’t solve anything.

And, even if I could walk properly, it’s too cold to go out for a long hike. Like to the next county. And I’d need food. And a nap. And the, you know, facilities.

Plus there are still people out there blowing leaves around, and outside isn’t that nice and quiet, either.

That’s the best you can do?

Pretty much.

I could color, but I tried it once and I didn’t like it.

And I could embroider the sections in cross-stitch on my tapestry which I can’t do while watching TV because the room is too dark.

Or I could eat, from stress, continuously for the remainder of the time. Also maybe counterproductive.

Something actually useful?

Or I can think a bit about how you do book marketing and promotion when you’re as slow as I am, and the next book will take years, maybe (let’s sincerely hope not, but it’s been started since March 2015, and I’m already into its second chapter. Woo hoo! (In my defense, the first many months were spent in planning in excruciating detail.)).

Not much you can do while occupying the inside of a jet-engine. Ask the birds.

It will be over at some time in the afternoon

So don’t cry for me (although pity gratefully accepted). This is just, like waiting for the dentist for hours before he deigns to drill into your teeth, part of the torture of civilized life – and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to do nothing while other people work to get my ducts sparkling clean, considering what the rest of the world has to put up with.

I really hope I don’t look back to this, and realize this was an oasis of leisure.

After all, I don’t expect myself to get anything done today, and I usually pester myself continuously about getting something written, because, like, I’m wasting my life.

Bang. Bang. BANG!

Enjoy your quiet.

Now, in respect for others, I will gracefully listen to your own complaints. Leave one in my comments!


***** 0.99 Sale still going on until New Year’s Day *****

Did you know you can give people ebooks for presents by just buying the ebook at Amazon and supplying their email address? They don’t even have to have an account. Amazon handles the rest – and you can even put in a message for the giftee. US link here.

Amazon has a FREE app to read Kindle files for almost every device you could read on. All?

I personally wouldn’t want to read 167K books on a mobile, but there’s no accounting for taste.

All other countries who can purchase ebooks from the ‘Zon: type in Pride’s Children: PURGATORY in your very own Amazon.

*****  *****


I just love the editor at this online magazine. She publishes any drivel I care to supply!

Endless self promotion due to the fact that you need to see things SEVEN times before you buy.

Thanks to Stencil for the squirrel. Gizzy has the same kind of tail. Bushy.

Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 2

look like 2CHOOSE YOUR GOAL: HOW SHOULD YOUR READERS SEE YOU?

This is a toughie, because we would prefer to be attractive naturally (‘attractive’ here meaning strictly to find more readers who will like your writing), and then any picture would do.

So you have to instead suss out what those readers expect to see, and trust to produce the kind of writing they like to read.

You can go with mysterious, and skip all forms of visual presence. Your choice. Which will be destroyed if you ever get interviewed, do a book signing, go to a convention – and someone takes a photo of the ‘mysterious author’ and makes it public.

“But,” you say, “I never go out in public.” Like me. Okay, not never, just rarely. Maybe then it’s even MORE important to have a photo you like be your representative out in the world.

I’m sure it varies widely by genre, and a fresh-faced young beautiful blonde girl would lack the picture creds to write a really nasty military thriller conspiracy. We trust Stephen King to write horror – he LOOKS like he writes horror. We have these ideas in our head…

If you don’t look like the stereotype, can you modify yourself to look like the stereotype? No.

Can you modify your PHOTO to look like the stereotype? Yes.

Determining the stereotype requires a bit of detective work

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is a mainstream contemporary literary love story.

Here’s my analysis:

  • The author of such doesn’t have to be as pretty as the author of a Romance (who should at least look a bit like her (usually young and beautiful) heroine).
  • She should be older than the ‘pretty young thing,’ but maybe not ‘old.’
  • She should be smiling. Love, after all, makes us happy. But not grinning.
  • She should NOT look like a business person, yet she should look competent. She will be your guide on an adventure.
  • She should be slightly soft, rather than hard.
  • She should not look deeply worried.
  • She should definitely not look realistic, warts and all.
  • She should be dressed in something that does NOT signal Romance or Romance writer (think of Meryl Streep in She-Devil with Rosanne Barr – go look; I’ll wait). Nor should she dress like Roseanne Barr on that poster (which is a parody of the Romance-reading suburban housewife). Roseanne Barr is a beautiful woman, and so is Kathy Bates, but they have made a career out of allowing themselves to be portrayed as ugly or frumpy – I’ve been startled by how well they clean up!

How does this translate to what I hope to aim for in the Author Photo?

Plan to ‘airbrush’ or ‘retouch’ the heck out of anything I choose. This is not the time to be starkly realistic.

Plan to pick a background to enhance the person; here’s the Kristin Hannah photo on Amazon – if I looked like her… but older? A really good makeup session, and a really good photographer would do that for me. The choice of clothing and the background combination bring out her eyes beautifully.

A forward-facing but slightly un-centered and three-quarter body position is better than one squarely facing the camera, like a mug shot or a photo for a job application.

Look directly at the reader. Readers need to be able to trust the writer of an improbable tale.

Smiling, but not grinning.

No plastic hair for this – enough said? Soft, flowing, but tidy, a frame for the face. This part is me: no bangs/fringe. Not too much hair obscuring the face. No hint of hiding.

And, of course, the EXPRESSION – the overall ‘feel’ of the image – has to be right. And no, I can’t define ‘right’ in this context; I hope I’ll know it if I see it. It’s not just ‘pretty’ or ‘confident’ or ‘competent.’

It’s the same reason I licensed the photo for the cover that I chose: I could not find another that had the right ‘expression’ as a whole – and that one worked for me, though in that case the face is not visible – it’s the whole body and body position that expresses the longing.

Okay now – skillset? Acquire or farm out?


CAUTION

*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***


I thought about going to fiverr for the retouching after I picked out a photo with a suitable expression. There are a lot of people there who will retouch for a very reasonable fee, and the portfolios I saw were impressive.

Maybe I’ll go there later, if Richard Avedon still doesn’t live in Hamilton, NJ.

For me, it’s always the balance between how much energy it takes to set up and work with another person, usually a healthy, energetic person. But more importantly, people with their own ideas and opinions, whom you hire because of those, are not going to get exactly what you want without a good deal of back and forth over a suitable period of time. And it would take a lot of time to vet the portfolios, and go through the whole process with several people. I might be surprised and pleased – the same way I might be surprised and pleased with some of our local photographers – but I don’t have a history of success in that department.

Maybe I’ll just send the picture I choose, pay three or four people, tell them ‘glamorous,’ and see what comes back. Still sounds like a lot of work.

I don’t have a friend who just had a gorgeous head shot taken.

I don’t live near my sisters, or their hairdressers.

Pixelmator and Youtube to the rescue!

With the caveat that the best way to get a great picture by retouching is to start with a very good picture that is almost what you want, but needs a little enhancing and cleanup – and I lack said good picture – I located online, free, available any time (my kind of energy saving), a series of videos giving me exactly the tools and instruction I need, and which I am learning, taking notes on, and starting to follow.

As usual, I talk/write too much, so I’m going to cut the ‘goal’ post off here, and write the rest as I try to achieve my goal: to look like me as you should see me, not as the cold harsh light of day does.


Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!


*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.

Creating and improving the dreaded Author Photo: Part 1

look likeYOUR CHANCE TO CONTROL HOW THE WORLD SEES YOU. LITERALLY.

After having just interacted online about the dreaded Author Bio, and navigated that to a conclusion (satisfactory or not), I continue on my mission: to have every useful feature that connects me to potential readers for my fiction neatly and professionally (in the DIY sense) filled out.


CAUTION

*** This is how a PWC* is doing this, not how you should if you want a beautiful photo. ***


I COULD go out and find a photographer, get the professional headshot created, and post that. In fact, that’s on my To Do list. Has been for YEARS. NOT very near the top. If I ever become famous, have some extra time to waste, or decide I absolutely must, well, there are photographers in Hamilton, NJ. Every once in a while I look them up online. Richard Avedon is NOT in Hamilton, NJ.

I want to return to writing – and I’ve seen so many headshots that I positively hate, and few that I don’t – so, in my ‘fools rush in’ usual manner, I’m trying to make do with no help from anyone. Because I can count on me, and my tools, and everyone else seems elusive and slippery.

I have a nice little camera, courtesy of husband a few birthdays ago. It has lots of megapixels. It is the source of the snapshot that is the current photo of me in most places online. I’ll put it here, because the whole point is that it’s about to change.

AliciaHeadshotNO

It has, of course, been edited. Taken in New Orleans on a family vacation a couple of years back, it is cunningly calculated to fool all automatic editing by the cunning collection of windows and other architectural features from the cathedral I was standing in front of when someone caught a snap of the least objectionable expression on my face of the whole vacation.

Truly.

The source of the problem is…

That I, like many women (including models), don’t like the way I look in photographs.

There are PLENTY of photographs of me.

I come from a photogenic family – any picture of my sisters will show you how beautiful, polished, smiley, and always impeccably dressed and made up and coiffed (even on the golf course) my sisters are. Mother’s cheekbones are still impressive and lovely, and she just turned 93. She is ALSO kept beautifully coiffed by her lovely helpers.

But I rarely measure up. The CFS means the energy it takes – and it is considerable, ask my sisters – is not available. I throw myself together the best and quickest I can (cleanliness IS next to godliness, if not before it – I manage that often), with no thought for style.

This little detail is a very large part of why ‘Have professional headshot taken’ is so low on the priority list, BTW. Besides the four months of doing nothing but dieting required, I would have to get hairstyling and makeupping and fashion updates which are out of my energy budget from the sheer amount of time they would take, not to even mention the energy.

Your excuse may vary.

So the solution comes from…?

Well, I’m working on it.

For people like me, there are two sources of an acceptable photo:

  1. Candid shots taken by someone else – the source of the one I’ve been using
  2. Shots taken by me on daughter’s forward-facing iPhone camera – one of these days; for reasons which will be discussed below, it won’t help until I have some extra energy
  3. Shots taken by me on my computer – with the software and hardware already available to me – in this case, the wretched Photo Booth

Why wretched? Because it turns out the resolution is absolutely crappy, and there is no way to change it! The resolution settings for the camera – which sends much better quality pictures of me to Skype and such (so I know it can) – have NO way to be accessed ON the computer.

But it has the ONE advantage I need: I can see what I look like as I take a picture. Or rather, what I THINK I look like. So I can manipulate the heck out of that.

The source photos I accidentally acquired

One day within the past year, I went to church, where I sing in a tiny choir.

As I try to do, I was tidy, had a tiny bit of makeup on (okay, eyeliner – it makes my pale lashes stand out a little; possibly lip gloss – easy compared to lipstick), my favorite purple shirt, and my hair was as clean and soft as it gets with my limited haircutting and maintenance routine (yes, I cut it myself when it drives me crazy; very fast compared to that energy-sucking salon trip which normal people use).

So, basically, I looked as good as it gets nowadays (don’t expect that much).

For an unknown reason, I had a bit more energy than usual when I got home from church (maybe daughter drove), I sat at my computer, and it hit me: take some quick snapshots – and we’ll process them later and see if we can kick this headshot thing up the next step. I took my glasses off to avoid reflections. Besides, I don’t usually wear them EXCEPT at the computer, so you wouldn’t expect to see me in glasses.

I quickly took about 20 photos with Photo Booth – and the day’s extra energy was used up.

When I looked at them a few days later, I discovered that Apple, which usually does much better for me, had chosen the low resolution photo as the output of this app which comes with the computer AND there is no way to change that!

Aargh! After blowing my energy wad, I had 20 low resolution photos of me at all kinds of coy angles, every one of which would go straight to the garbage if I had my druthers, and not one of them was suitable as taken because of the background, the coloring, and the subject.

But I’m nothing if not game, and I will be using one of these photos (I might even dare post beginning and after versions) as the source of the dreaded Author Photo, which, unless you are beautiful may actually be better a little fuzzy. Okay – a lot.

Thus endeth Part 1.


LAST KINDLE COUNTDOWN DAY US AND UK!

Amazon US     and     Amazon UK

If you like my prose, consider purchasing my fiction. It’s written by the same person.


Your place to dump the insecurities that make this dreaded – from the Author Bio post comments, I assume many other authors (and normal people) have the same problem, or I wouldn’t be posting this!


*PWC: Person with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome).

Also, thanks to Stencil for the free account I’m using to do the images at the beginnings of my posts. They have paid accounts if you need more than an occasional image.

Writing the Author Bio is painful

all about meCHILDREN START WITH HUGE EGOS – ARE TAUGHT TO BE MODEST

Edited 1/17/17 (see end).


I have been struggling with a stupid task I thought I’d already accomplished and would merely have to revisit for a quick update before any more ad campaigns: having an ‘Author Bio.’

I don’t know how it is in traditional publishing, whether authors are now required to write their own bio in third person and send it in, along with a ‘professionally edited’ manuscript they’ve paid to have edited, but the big attraction was always that someone would interview you, tell you you were being way too modest, extract all kinds of interesting bits from you (thus allowing you to remain officially modest), and write something up that made you sound much more interesting that you are.

Until you could replace the whole thing with the fact that you are now famous and a list of your accomplishments as long as, well, whatever.

Once OTHER people have conferred interesting-ness on you, you can act modest and even bashful, and still wow consumers into buying whatever it is you produce.

In these days when indies have dumped gatekeeping and vetting from outside, and have learned to speak of their own work in public, and say that it’s good and persuade you to read it – the other part, writing your own ad copy, is also hard – we now find ourselves in exactly the position our parents would not want us to be in: praising ourselves.

The resulting bios, from absent (coward or busy or not realizing you need to have one) to whimsical to dry to boastful, have been instructive. And the samples online, ‘How to write your author bio,’ have been equally ludicrous.

About vs. Author Bio

You are allowed, nay, expected, to be whimsical on the About page of your own blog. Mine is a mixture of things about me which might appeal to someone – but they are just a random bunch of facts and factoids, things which are individually true or illustrative.

Many of the people who read your About page become online friends.

But the Author Bio on your books’ site – and the Author page on Amazon or your Goodreads Author Profile – is a different beast. It is for strangers.

It is supposed to represent you as a SERIOUS WRITER.

It is something which could be on the back flap of your hardcover traditionally-published FICTION, written by that (possibly fictitious) publicist/copywriter.

It’s a grownup thing.

Writing the REAL Author Bio is PANIC TIME

I can’t tell you how long it’s been on the list, because I thought I had done it, so AT LEAST since October 2015, and probably longer, this task.

Here’s a note to myself from 2013: “I come from the tradition that says the author is the least relevant part of the book, once it’s out.”

I have To Do lists with ‘check Author Bio’ on them, as you’re supposed to revisit your Amazon Author Page periodically and tweak it. I have resisted that tweaking mightily for a very good reason: I’m afraid if I touch ANYTHING on the materials submitted when I posted ebook and print versions, it will lead Amazon to review my materials – and possibly decide I’ve done something wrong and cause all manner of delays in getting it back up.

I didn’t ask anyone about that fear, because it is my experience that fear doesn’t survive information, and I DIDN’T WANT TO DO IT.

But I have this ad campaign coming up, and a To Do list specifically to be ready for it, and so many things causing me angst on it, that I decided this is it, the ‘write Author Bio’ was THE next task, and that I would not go on to another task on that To Do list until it was done, because bouncing around from item to item is getting me nowhere but even more confused.

The actual writing of the Author Bio took seven days

The current method – stick with one item until it’s done or the ad is past and there’s nothing you can do about it – started on June 16, 2016.

A usable (up for comments, so feel free) one was produced today by yours truly. 332 words for the long version, and a shortie of 72 words.

If you’ve gone through the process, you know. If not, I don’t think I can make you feel the pain sufficiently.

I have been facing this, putting it front and center as other things had to be dealt with, not moving on to the many other things I need to do (a handwritten list of twenty items, many with subparts), for SEVEN DAYS.

It’s been so bad that I started writing a new book – titled PAPER BRAIN for now – about how to use a damaged brain and still manage to GET SOMETHING DONE. Waiting for ‘good time’ not required if even half-functional. I kept throwing every bit of time – good, semi-good, and non-functional at the task – and getting nowhere.

Brain fog rampant. Inability to make decisions foremost. Whole worldview exposed.

Today I figured out how to break the logjam

In desperation at all the flopping about, lack of decision-making capability, and sheer angst, I found the right question.

I couldn’t write my Author Bio. Why? Because of all the stuff I started this post with.

But,

How about writing the bio I WISH I had?

As if I WERE someone else.

As if life had gone the way I planned it to, more or less.

As if all those details had happened.

I am ashamed of being who I am instead of who I always planned to be, and have been hoping to go back to. So someone could write a bio about me and put it on the books I always planned to write.

I finally realized it has never been up to me, not the final outcome: life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

Here it is, finally, shorn of angst and agita:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory. She holds a BS in physics from Seattle U., and an MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the U. Wisconsin-Madison. A minor problem with her right eye kept her from fulfilling her ambition as an astronaut.

A voracious reader since beginning to read at three, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

A homeschooler by accident when illness derailed her working life’s plan, her life-long dedication to the sciences aided in the development of three STEM children with a love of language.

She has dedicated the past twenty some years to learning to write to the standards of the early classics she was steeped in, as she believes that messages in fiction must be surrounded by the utmost in quality entertainment, and that fiction is the most powerful tool we have to slipping through the barriers we put up around our hearts and our minds.

As a writer, she’s published traditionally in short story. She’s been featured on Wattpad, where her story Too Late has received 63.7K reads, and where her debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was serialized and currently has 19.7K reads.

When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying the hummingbirds in her garden of perennials designed for them, or singing.

She is hard at work on the next novel in the Pride’s Children trilogy, working title NETHERWORLD, scheduled for publication later this year. Follow her on Amazon or at prideschildren.wordpress.com to be informed when her next story is available.

Discover more about her opinionated opinions and quirky writing methods on her writing blog, at liebjabberings.wordpress.com.

With the short version:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

A voracious reader, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

This is me, folks. What will go out there in public for those who don’t know me, who haven’t earned the details by knowing me personally or reading this blog.

Comments of all kind especially welcome – it’s so much easier to change things at this point.


1/17/17 Update:

As always happens with these things, I updated, and then I visited recently, and didn’t like it. The content was fine, but I realized that, as a READER, I would want to know things in a different ORDER, because I wouldn’t care about the writer’s credentials and history (because I am not a famous person), but about whether she could WRITE.

All I had to do to have it work much better for me was to rearrange so that items of interest to me as a READER came first; then, if someone wants to continue reading about the rest of my life and times, they can.

Here’s the current version:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is hard at work on the next novel in the Pride’s Children trilogy, working title NETHERWORLD, scheduled for publication later this year.

Follow her on Amazon or at PridesChildren.com to be informed when her next story is available.

As a writer, she’s published traditionally in short story. She’s been featured on Wattpad, where her story Too Late has received 66K reads, and where her debut novel Pride’s Children: PURGATORY was serialized and currently has over 20K reads.

A voracious reader since beginning to read at three, she had always intended to write fiction, and, now retired, dedicates her whole life – when not spending time with her husband, family, and chinchilla – to exploring the concepts of integrity in relationships, and the psychological questions of why people do what they do and make the choices they make, including their life partners.

She has devoted the past twenty-some years to learning to write to the standards of the early classics she was steeped in, as she believes that messages in fiction must be surrounded by the utmost in quality entertainment, and that fiction is the most powerful tool we have for slipping through the barriers we put up around our hearts and our minds.

A homeschooler by accident when illness derailed her working life’s plan, her career-long commitment to the sciences aided in the development of three tech-oriented children with a love of language.

She is a former researcher and computational physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory. She holds a BS in physics from Seattle U., and an MS and PhD in Nuclear Engineering from the U. Wisconsin-Madison. A minor problem with her right eye kept her from fulfilling her ambition as an astronaut.

When she’s not writing, you can find her enjoying the hummingbirds in her garden of perennials designed for them, or singing.

Discover more about her opinionated opinions and quirky writing methods on her writing blog, at liebjabberings.wordpress.com.

What say you?

What does this character do for your story?

character for reasonIN LIFE, PEOPLE HAPPEN; IN STORIES, YOU WRITE THEM IN

I’m just about ready to start revising the excruciatingly rough draft of Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, and my last task is one I thought I wasn’t going to have to do much work on.

Why? Because many of the characters in PURGATORY carry over to NETHERWORLD.

And really, since I am writing a trilogy – split for the convenience of size, not because the stories are separate – you’d think I already had my characters well in hand, and that I would just give them a quick review, add a few, drop a few, and be able to move on.

I’m dropping four characters, and picking up four characters.

It doesn’t seem like much, does it?

And they are minor characters; our main characters, Kary, Andrew, and Bianca will of course be there for the whole, but there are changes, and some of the characters (two of whom come back for Book 3) don’t belong in this volume.

That’s typical, and not at all unusual.

Relationships between characters are half the story

But my plotting software* gives roughly equal space to plot/theme – and characters.

We don’t see the world abstractly. We don’t sit on the front porch and muse about honor.

We compare friends, one of whom acts honorably and responsibly (most of the time), with the one who seems to have an excuse for anything that somehow puts the responsibility for her actions elsewhere.

And from how it hits us, and from what the results of their behavior is, we come to form our own opinion of whether standing up is better than slithering out from under. We understand an abstract concept by its concrete representation in a form our brains are designed to respond to.

Characters are chosen to represent extremes

There isn’t much point in wasting space in a story on two characters who are very similar in their outlooks on life, regardless of how common it is in real life to surround yourself with people you have a lot in common with.

Stories are created from CONFLICT. DRAMA. TENSION.

Stories have word limits. Yes, even long stories like Pride’s Children. If the writer spends too much time belaboring the obvious, the reader starts skipping. Elmore Leonard recommended leaving out the parts people skip.

In Albert Zukerman’s useful book, Writing the Blockbuster Novel, he has an example which stuck with me: Ken Follett, in an early draft, had included two policemen in The Man From St. Petersburg. Zuckerman recommended combining them – and making the single remaining character a much more important personage – to kick up the potential for conflict.

When every word matters, the pages turn more quickly, and the point the writer is trying to make sneaks into the reader’s mind more easily.

In real life, there’d be a whole police precinct full of cops, most of them of similar personality type – those are the people who enjoy police work. But for a story, one is MORE than enough. Unless it’s a police procedural, and the point is to push the in-house conflicts of a group of officers, under pressure to solve a crime, fighting over the best methods.

But in a story we have to be parsimonious in the extreme.

And this means not adding a character to a story unless he or she is there for a multitude of purposes.

Relationships are where the story’s points get made

So the interactions between the characters have to carry their weight.

Ever notice how good dialogue skips all the small talk? In life we spend lots of time inquiring about family and friends, work and leisure activities, before we settle down to something as unpleasant as having a friend on the police force look up a license plate number for us because we have a sneaking suspicion a neighbor is responsible for the new dent in our car door. In a book, the reader would go mad with boredom!

Rule #1 of writing: Don’t bore the reader!***

But the dialogue or physical interaction that remains then has to serve as many purposes as possible: information exchange, state of mind, difficulty in responding to a request that is faintly illegal, status of the friendship… plus class and education and income level of the two participants…

And to set these up, the writer should know why she picked these two particular characters, and what exactly the reader should take out of the exchange.

Setting the web of character interactions into place

1 – For continuing characters interacting with continuing characters, the story must change. We already heard what they had to say in Book 1.

2 – For new characters interacting with new characters, the story must explain why these new characters at all, and what has changed/what has remained the same in the story that the new characters reveal.

3 – For interactions between old and new characters, what is new to the story.

Not surprisingly, planning takes time and a fair amount of effort

I found myself extremely reluctant to go into the relationships when I realize how many of them there were. Then I had the above talk with myself.

So the past two weeks I’ve been thinking about characters, what gets space in the story and why, and what can be left out – because somebody has to do it.

I’m almost to the end of it, and it’s been fascinating.

And since I’ve been having the best time planning to use all this.

I almost missed it due to that reluctance (missed doing it as a unit, because I would have certainly had to do it in every scene) to dig into what seemed finished. It wasn’t.

I hope readers like the results.

————

*Thanks to ShareAsImage.com for the ability to create graphics

**Dramatica – which allows me to look at a tiny piece of the puzzle at a time (drat that brain fog) and have some hope that the whole will make sense when I’m done.

*** The only rule that matters, so far as I’m concerned.

2016 and the writing of Pride’s Children

DEAR FOLLOWERS:

I beg your indulgence. I haven’t figured out which posts belong here (probably the general ones NOT about the books), and which on the Pride’s Children temporary blog. (new post over there, too, about the reviews slowly accumulating)

And the permanent site is still tangled in software I did not install myself, and which will have to be uninstalled and reinstalled.

There are a LOT of things on the to do list:

  • Writing Books 2 and 3
  • Fixing websites and blogs
  • Marketing and advertising
  • Audiobooks – should I decide to continue with my mad plan to produce the Read by Author version
  • Getting reviews for Book 1
  • Keeping up with Wattpad and WriteOn and…
  • Life

Unfortunately, there is only one of me, and I seem to be on the critical path in every one of these items, gumming up the works and slowing things down.

So you will have somewhat irregular blog postings, and occasional rants.

I thought writing was hard – but I can’t wait to get back to it – because the marketing, etc., is HARDER.

I have a bent for the writing, interest but little experience in the other, and tech skills to be developed on websites and blogs.

I’ll get there – I’m still enjoying all the bits and pieces, and it has been wonderful getting some feedback from complete strangers – and other feedback from some of the people I’ve been following online for the past four years and am in awe of.

But it may be slower than I’d like, because I want to push to make the writing faster, now that I kind of know what I’m doing in many writing areas. I think I can. I KNOW it won’t be fifteen years again, and I’d like to aim to get Book 2 finished in 2016.

Big goal – but if you don’t write them down, they have a tendency not to happen at all.

Wish me well. And I wish YOU well with your goals for 2016.

I claim Trilka Press and create my own logo

Trilka Press LogoDIY MEANS DO EVERYTHING YOURSELF!

I have to admit that publishing Pride’s Children, incredibly soon to be available also in trade paperback, has been a constant rush – and a constant learning experience.

I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

Many of us indies create for ourselves an imprint – mine is now TRILKA PRESS. The imprint will cover several (or all) of our books), and may even some day turn into a company which publishes other writers.

I did my Google-diligence: ‘trilka’ came up with only 3000 hits.

And there was no ‘Trilka Press.’ Not even in Scotland where one of the few meanings for trilka (to take the trilka, to take the sulks, to become huffy) appeared. You can kind of see why.

I wanted something with ‘tri’ in it, and spent some time checking out the internet’s cache of images, and found some lovely three-lobed Irish/Celtic knots (some labeled Trinity or Triquetra knots) – but they weren’t quite right – and I didn’t create them. I could have imitated one – drawn my own version – but they were lacking something which had been building in my notes and in my mind for a while, and which I actually used in an early cover:

3 symbolThe yin yang symbol inspired this; but the yin yang symbol represents harmony and balance, and my story – and the symbol it inspired in my mind – is based on struggle as well as an intricate joining of the three main characters in a way which will become clear only at the end of the last book in the trilogy.

An IMPRINT means a LOGO, too

So I had my name, and I had an idea, and I had learned to use graphics software Pixelmator on the Mac well enough to design my own cover.

And as you know by now, that is enough to allow me to go off and running after this particular hare.

A dear friend was going to do the logo – and then life changed on her and she is moving cross-country and she will be incredibly busy until the move happens in January, and then incredibly busy getting herself established in her new job and new profession and new place.

A gift from the gods: name, idea, and semi-pro (?!) skillset. I couldn’t pass it up.

Three days of my ‘good time’ went into making Pixelmator behave.

The next step: stained-glass texture

I looked all over the internet for a way to make the colored sections look like stained glass.

Options:

  1. Buy commercial stained glass textures in the three colors
  2. Copy from a photo of actual stained glass
  3. Figure out a way to make a stained-glass texture with my Pixelmator tools

The first was rather expensive – and I needed such a tiny quantity.

The second was attempted: I photographed my friend’s Tiffany lamp (which had two of the three colors I wanted). It must have been something to do with the lighting (a photographer I’m not, though I’ve gotten better at finding textures I can use in real life, and cobbling them together), but the photos were very dull, and what was worse, flat: they completely lacked the texture I instinctively knew I wanted. All stained glass is NOT textured – some is quite flat, and a lot is even plain – but my brain had something particular in mind, and diverting it is usually more work than just giving in, so…

I went for the third option: make my own. The internet had a few interesting ways to turn actual photos into something that looked like a stained-glass painting (one I really liked is here).

But these models were not usable – they relied on plugins and effects built into software I didn’t have.

But they gave me ideas.

EASY STAINED GLASS EFFECT in PIXELMATOR

To do what I wanted, I needed to use a series of effects which would give me 1) color variation, 2) texture, and 3) shine.

I started with the cutout in the black framework, filled with blue color:

Original blue shapeTo get the color variation, I stumbled on the Clouds effect – using two complementary colors. This is your color dabbing effect (sponge) in some other graphics programs. I picked a lighter blue for the second color. I had to repeat this step several times until I found a pleasing pattern – the effect uses a random generator, and some were not usable (red required a yellow second color, and the yellow, a black (IIRC)).

Clouds effectNext, I needed something to texturize the surface. Do snow – and it looks as if you’ve used the cloud pattern to pile on glass beads. At this step, it looks like bathroom glass.

Snow effectNext was getting something with an ‘angle’ feel to it. Use the motion effect to make it streaked. Play with radius and angle controls to get short streaks.

Motion effectNow for some shine. Use Glass distortion to ‘melt’ the glass ‘beads’. It is almost perfect at this stage for what I wanted (YMMV).

Glass effectThen I used a final effect: Sharpen gives you a final sharpening to the glass facets if you like.Sharpen effectAnd I was done.

IMPORTANT STEP: FONTS

I learned somewhere along the way that when you license a commercial font to use it for your books, the license does not usually allow you to use the font in your logo – which is something entirely different, since it is placed everywhere, and is scaled up and down.

To see what I mean, think of, say, the Coca-Cola font or the Harry Potter font: the exact fonts are very distinctive, part of the brand, and trademarked – so they don’t appear on other products but the licensed ones. When a font is used like this, the font creator cannot resell it – so the license fees are considerable.

Then I remembered that, on a lark, I had created my OWN handwriting font a while back on MyScriptFont.com. (It’s free – leave a donation.) If you remember my first sunset cover, my NAME was in my own handwriting font. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted for the cover (and the font needs work because of a lot of things), but the site gives you your own TrueTypeFont – and you own all the rights.

So I wrote out TRILKA PRESS – and went to work.

Pixelmator (and others) allow you to turn a font into a shape – down to the level of individual letters.

I won’t bore you with the work necessary to turn:

TRILKA PRESS lettersinto the letters which surround the logo. The font gets Converted to Shape. Then individual letters are double-clicked to make them editable, and Transformed (rotated and stretched and moved) until they touch both circles, and ‘look’ right as an ensemble. J.M. Ney-Grimm calls this ‘torturing the font.’

That, plus shapes in Pixelmator for all the black lines (duplicated and rotated using triangles and hexagons as scaffolding to get the correct angles), and the logo is finished.

I’m rather fond of it – the creation was years in the making, and then the pieces came together when I was ready to build it.

Have you created your own imprint, font, and/or logo?

To write good titles channel a newspaperman

PRIDE’S CHILDREN IS RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES

Part of the background of the novel I’m working so hard to get ready for publication is my fascination with celebrities, a tiny but life-long sideline of mine: in Mexico growing up, we read HOLA – which told you everything going on with anyone who was anyone, including the royal houses of Europe.

In the States, as an adult, I indulge this by reading People and similar magazines – at the dentist/doctor’s office. There is so much repetition, that once you have a good base, keeping up isn’t as hard as you think – you just tuck each new bit (which will probably recapitulate everything that ever happen in the celeb’s life) into your matrix of ‘data,’ and come back to it in a couple of months.

Life is a Soap Opera

I may have mentioned at some point that I have serialized Pride’s Children, Book 1, on several sites – to make connections in the online indie world, meet people, get new readers and their feedback.

One of these sites is VentureGalleries, and one of the two guys who runs it, Caleb Pritle, III, has been putting up chunks several times a week.

He chooses a 1000-1200 piece at a time, adds an episode title, and puts it up on the site.

He has the most outrageous episode titles, but the interesting thing to me has been that every one of them is lifted from somewhere in the episode.

When in the world did I write THAT?

The episodes aren’t quite scenes – his choice of divisions is to give serial readers a predictable size and approximate time-length piece, to be read on things like mobile phones.

So, for the fun of it, I’m going to go through the episodes he’s put up, and list them with their titles, and you’ll see what I mean.

One important bit: Caleb is an old newspaperman (I mean ‘experienced,’ not ‘agèd,’ when I say ‘old’) – and headlines have to grab. And he has a sensationalist turn of mind anyway – check out some of his books.

I honestly can’t remember writing some of these gems (the titles), but they are always IN the episode.

I’ve learned a lot about titles and grabbing attention from reading what he has been doing with my own words.

Thanks, Caleb!

Some ‘interesting’ episode titles:

3 – To hell with safe choices. She was going for…

6 – Did he have an affair with his co-star?

13 – Whatever the cost, her beauty was worth it.

14 – Love them, leave them, you never get to keep them.

24 – He liked living in the lap of luxury.

27 – It might be better posting an armed guard.

35 – For a writer, she was woefully inarticulate.

47 – She was jail bait, a child playing dress-up.

68 – Seeking sanctuary in the middle of the night.

74 – He sulked away like the coward he was.

86 – A woman who doesn’t gossip is a rare…

93 – Sincere flattery almost always worked.

99 – Sex changed everything and could never be undone.

109 – She had planned to expend her sexual tension.

116 – Why had she revealed her sordid secret?

128 – Would they fight a duel over a movie role?

136 – Hell’s deadline for tips was midnight.

144 – Was her mother sleeping around with movie stars?

152 – The most erotic thing a woman could do for a man.

158 – Why did she pray for the unborn baby to die.

163 – Was he on his way to hell?

He’s not done yet, so there will be more for me to shake my head at

They have ebooks and regular books and blog posts – always something going on.

This isn’t the full list – it’s not all posted there yet – but I can remember shaking my head at his ability to turn my simple words into lurid headlines when a particularly good one came across my desk.

How do you title your work, and what grabs your attention?

Thanks to Quozio.com for the ability to make quotes.

What the writer does when bored

HARD AT WORK. REALLY. MAKING PROGRESS. SLOWLY.

Cover design is fun. And hard exacting work. With pixels. And typography. And photographs.

It doesn’t look like anything until it’s done. You will see it then. Right now, it’s a pile of mostly things that haven’t worked. Yet.

If you want to see how it’s done by a pro, read JM Ney-Grimm’s posts: go to the site, and type ‘cover’ into the search box. Read everything.

For your entertainment, and because my eyes are closing and I can’t write a real post but I miss doing it, a blast from the rather recent past:

My notes dated March 18, 2015 at 2:58 PM.

I’m sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for someone. Not for me – it is the someone’s doctor’s visit.

Me, I’m bored.

I just went through the process of finishing the most significant step of a project I was forced to undertake (civic duty and all that), and have gotten it to the point where I email the whole thing (in painful detail) to those who need the information to fix THEIR problem.

I was worried that I might be wrong – but going THROUGH the process and writing it all out showed me that not only was I RIGHT, but that the problem was way bigger than I had thought, and they had all the additional stuff WRONG, too.

So, vindicated for having undertaken the project, finally (it has been HANGING OVER my head for TWO YEARS), I feel pretty good – and I can get back to my writing.

Tools make it easier

Only all I have is the computer (no big external monitor), and the chiclet keyboard that comes with the MacBook (which I only use when FORCED to), and I can only see one page at a time or so, and that is not how I usually WORK, so I’m antsy.

I’ve done everything on the WIP that I can – and that’s saying a lot, because I’m writing/revising/editing the next-to-last scene, which is heavy. I need time, concentration, a nap first, and two hours in which I can let my brain assemble the pieces into a whole.

And I CAN’T do it here.

So I reread everything, and then put it away until I can get back to my desk.

I can’t sleep, work, go anywhere – and I will be interrupted in less than 15 minutes, so what do I do? I write this – and you guys get a post about what a writer does when totally bored?

The answer is: write.

If not on the computer, in a notebook.

I have been known to borrow paper and pens from a hospital nurses’ station and from the chaplain in a different hospital, to ask for writing materials in a hotel or a store if I didn’t bring anything.

Get the thoughts OUT of the HEAD, capture them on the PAGE, and the brain is happy and entertained.

The doctor comes out – I close the laptop. The doctor disappears again – I open it back up.

Really, this is a total core dump. And there’s nothing in the core!

Aaargh!

Normal people play games on their smart phones. I don’t have one, and I’m not normal!

What do YOU do when totally bored? Are you a reader or a writer?

Unexpected writing gifts: blocked internet time

*

Are people blogging less?

I am aware that over the past month or so my blog posting has gone down in frequency, to the point where I’ve basically been putting up a post every Tuesday with a bit of a chat and the next scene in Pride’s Children, and nothing more.

Part of it is simply end-of-the-year-itis: there were a lot of things to do, many more than usual, including a trip to California to welcome a wonderful young lady into the family and celebrate with her and eldest son and lots of family. Add Christmas and New Year’s to that, and I defy you to continue exactly as usual.

But it’s been more than that. I notice far fewer posts on the blogs I follow, and far fewer comments, and wonder if the day of blogging is somehow taking its natural turn in the evolution of online communication: all things come to an end and are replaced by other things. Which begs the question: What will the new thing be?

What’s next?

There are podcasts and video blogs – I doubt I will be joining that revolution. For better or worse, I am of the print generation.

And as a raging aggressive introvert: ain’t gonna happen.

I do plan to try my hand at audiobooks – and give the weary world the ‘read by the author’ version of Pride’s Children. Why? Because I’m a ham.

But I’ve missed posting my thoughts and the things I figure out about my writing and my own observations of the world we live in. Heck, I’ve missed gathering the herd of wild sheep that IS my thoughts, and making it go into the corral one thought-sheep at a time in a line.

So I intend to do better, and spew forth more of whatever it is shiny that attracts my attention.

The unexpected gift of the day: blocked internet time

This morning’s gift was a 15-min. chunk of time in which my internet was not available, my morning B1 and caffeine haven’t kicked in yet, and in which, rather than get started on today’s writing (Pride’s Children, Book 1, isn’t going to finish revising itself), my brain decided to write about writing – and throw the results up for the world to see (‘marveling at’ is optional) JUST because I can. You don’t have to read – that’s the marvelous part – and I don’t have to do it, but we can if we want to, and I find that entrancing.

I can’t say what length will be natural for this Year of Our Lord 2015 – I suspect the pieces may be shorter – but I’m raring to go, looking forward to the end of the revising, and the work of finishing up and posting the first book of the trilogy, and exercising and eating right (okay, better) and reading and blogging and… whatever 2015 holds in store.

And that was how I chose to use my present this morning.

How about you?

*Thanks to Quozio.com for the quote software.