Tag Archives: digitization

Waiting for print? Pride’s Children has achieved ignition



The print edition is up. Links below, if you were waiting for it.

‘Achieved ignition’ is my little joke. Hard to set ebooks on fire. Though I hope if you get one, you will read it first. Passing print books on to other people is also a good way of getting them off your shelves if you don’t want them any more.

But don’t lend them. The books I lend never come back.

I’ve finally learned not to lend them

PC1 3D back3D FREE Images courtesy Boxshot (high quality renderings available)

Looks like a book, doesn’t it?

You store these ideas in your bookmarks because they are neat – and eventually, you get to the place where you USE them.

IF you remember that you have them. (I need to go through that whole bookmarks list labeled ‘EBOOK,’ which is where I’ve been storing these things, some literally for years, in anticipation of this day.)

Thanks, Boxshot. This time it was very quick to go into Pixelmator, cut out the appropriate images from the full cover (anyone with sharp eyes will notice it’s MY original version – CreateSpace hasn’t put the bar code on the back cover yet), save them as separate images (back, front, spine) trimmed of all excess blank space (Trim Canvas command – but don’t save!). My first attempt looked very odd as a book because I forgot to trim the pixels down to just the piece I needed – the spine image was a tiny sliver down the ‘book’ spine.

Pride’s Children: PURGATORY (Book 1 of the Trilogy) is in PRINT

Amazon kindly links everything up for you on the product page, but here are a couple of the links for your convenience:

Amazon print product page

Amazon.UK product page

Amazon.MEX product page  (Hola, familia)

Amazon ebook product page

In this day and age of ebooks, I don’t expect to sell as many in paper (okay, except maybe to myself), but I’m glad to have that publishing milestone checked off the list. I do have lovely people who have been waiting for the print edition.


Hope it is available to customers – I don’t control it. But it IS a limited time coupon if it’s there.

MATCHBOOK: Amazon sells you an inexpensive ebook of Pride’s Children

…if you buy the print edition. I’ve kept that at the 0.99 setting for now.

Check out their conditions – I don’t know what you can and cannot do with the ebook.

Still having fun. Over to you.

Editing the self: the writer’s final frontier


I’m almost finished. I have three chapters of Pride’s Children, Book 1, left to edit – out of twenty.

It seems a good time to stop and review the lessons of editing, as this is the last time I’ll do this for the first time.

Editing is a good kind of boring work.

The purpose is to make things better, whether you thought your writing was already good enough, or whether you’ve been postponing all those little decisions while you were writing so you could finish.

‘Better’ is subjective AND objective.

I’m eschewing the ‘professional editor’ step.

So I have to do an especially good job myself, or be subject to the standard complaint about indies, that they really need a professional editor.

Some do, some don’t.

What is really necessary is that the WORK be edited to a PROFESSIONAL STANDARD.

So, if I’m going to do this myself, I need to put my reputation on the line. But most importantly, I need to learn to do the work, and edit my writing down to the last jot and tittle.

The writer has CHOICES to make

The hard part: take, for example, cliches. While you don’t want too many cliches in your writing (and AutoCrit flags a huge bunch of them), in every scene you have to decide if THIS character USES cliches, to that extent, and therefore they stay. Can you almost tell which character it is because of which and how many cliches are used?

Or spelling: Andrew is Irish; to make the point, I throw in an occasional ‘colour’ or ‘whilst’ in his thoughts in his pov – which either makes you think I can’t spell, or charms you into remembering he’s a bit foreign.

Or flashbacks: Bianca’s father lives on in her head, in the form of little sayings he used. Aphorisms. Am I using too many? Do they work? Is it reasonable for her to remember his words? Yes, given her backstory – and this is the only way you learn some things about her.

The main problem? I keep getting pulled in to reading.

Then I stop, pull myself back out, go back to the protocol I’ve established over the long slog of editing I’ve been doing since I finished figuring out how to format my ebooks and compile with one click.

It slows down the forward progress to keep reading sections.

I still have NOT read Pride’s Children, Book 1, from beginning to end. I haven’t dared. I want to keep my eyes as fresh as possible to catch… well, if I knew, I would have fixed it already.

But my brain does seem to be on full alert at some level, because I have run into a number of small but important things, startled myself by noticing, pulled up the whole text (all 160K words – something Scrivener does without a hiccup, and which I never liked doing in Word), and found that yup, I DID use the same saint’s name for two churches on two different continents. Not that it matters – Catholic churches all over the world share names. For example, when we moved to Hamilton, NJ, our parish was St. Gregory the Great’s – and that is the name of the last parish I had in Southern California when I was a child, before I moved to Mexico at 7, and yes, I still have the school patch from way back then. But I digress.

It was easier to give the church in Colorado a different saint’s name than the one in Ireland, Co. Galway. Easier than explaining it.

The things I’d been postponing or waiting for

I ran the parts which needed to be an accurate expression of Catholic dogma (very tiny parts, but important to what one of the characters, Kary, believes) past my parish priest – he suggested I not use the name of an actual local church. So that church had to be renamed, as well. He also kindly said my dogma was okay – no unintended flubs. That was encouraging. As usual, the author accepts responsibility, in writing, for all errors, but it’s still nice to know 1) I sought advice, and 2) passed.

NAMES – last chance

It’s not that hard to change names before you publish – but PC has a cast of thousands (okay, 64 named characters in the three books, so far), and I’ve tried very hard not to reuse names or initials, and it isn’t that easy to find a name that fits in with the rest. Welcome to St. Bartholomew’s. Phew. Nobody names a kid Bartholomew any more (thought there are some Barts out there), so it was easy enough. Fortunately, there are plenty of odd, long saint’s names, and we now ALSO have a St. Augustine’s. For which I have to decide which pronunciation of to use, as I’m planning to do the audiobook ‘as read by author.’

I give characters easy names, and keep a detailed bible, but there are only 26 letters in the alphabet (a few more if you include the letters unique to Spanish), and this is my last chance to make sure that my character names are unique, their initials are unique, and that I don’t have unintended consequences (the character whose initials were B. S. has been renamed).

Is that a plot hole? Check the CALENDAR

When you write on a scene-by-scene basis, even with a very detailed plan/outline/plot and a calendar, you eventually get to the place where everything is stitched together, and has to hang as a unit. I’m at that point, and I’m finding that I want to make small changes. I doubt anyone else will pay attention that closely, but I do believe readers create a gestalt as they go, and subconsciously notice things which make them go ‘Huh?’

I’m supersensitive – that’s my job – so a reader won’t have to go ‘Huh?’ I sincerely hope.

It’s ALWAYS the writer’s responsibility: the buck stops here

The process is slow at times: yesterday, I noticed a flaw in the editing software – I used a particular verb way too many times in one scene, enough times that I noticed, but the software never flagged it as an ‘overused word’ – and so, since I want the editing software as good as possible (so I don’t have to remember to do things on my own), I took the time to give them feedback (which they kindly appreciated). And then I tackled the job of finding replacement ways to say something that did NOT involve that verb quite as many times. Lazy brain, tired brain – each one of these original expressions was fine, and colloquial, and often the simplest expression of an idea – but cumulatively (and I don’t know how I didn’t catch them before I posted that particular scene online), too much.

Now I have to go over the WHOLE thing one more time – to see if that was an accidental bad habit one week when I was polishing THAT scene, or whether I do it all the time! Aargh!

Beta readers and commenters are HELPERS

BTW – writing in public, posting your work as you go, does not necessarily make it error free: readers who are reading for story don’t notice these things. They cut you WAY too much slack. Thanks guys – I think that means your attention was otherwise occupied.

It doesn’t excuse ME.

And that is the report from the trenches: I’m almost at the end of editing, and willing to do whatever is necessary so my words don’t get in the way of you enjoying my story when you read it as a whole.

And if you’re wondering why the blog posts have been few and far between: this stuff takes a lot of time, and a lot out of you. I’m procrastinating right now – there are those final three chapters, and that little bit to examine about the timeline, and…

If you’re a writer, comments welcome. If you’re a reader, do you think I’m crazy?


PS: I’m now using Anti-Social to great effect. I added all the sites I usually surf to the list of social sites I want to avoid, and Anti-Social kindly blocks me from accessing them during my chosen working period – once I set said working period. Great little programs, Freedom and Anti-Social (from the same folks). Make one decision (breakable, but at a cost in time that makes it an actual choice), and it is now just enough harder to surf that my brain often doesn’t bother.

PPS Thanks to Quozio for the easy quotation images.

Drastic change in writer habits during final editing

PRIDE'S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 1 final editing changes.

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 1 final editing changes.


I need my brain ON to edit.

That’s basically it.

I can’t edit with my regular brain (CFS brain fog galore) – too many tiny critical decisions to make. And every one of those edits/changes/corrections has to be RIGHT, because that’s what I mean by ‘FINAL EDIT.’

I’m not doing this again, unless one of my hardy beta readers or proofreaders points out that I’ve made another dum-dum. FACTUAL errors WILL be corrected. Stylistic ones NOT. This is it, folks, get your digs in now or forever hold your PIECE.

In Chapter 1, Scene 1, I made over 50 edits. None of them major (no plot or character changes), I am happy to say, but all of them necessary. That is a lot of decisions for someone decision-challenged at the best of times.

I’m writing this post as I go about the complete change in working patterns, and how it affects the writer, ME. In case it helps someone else, or merely for the entertainment value.

So, just block the internet and proceed in a nice quiet environment?

The hardest part right now is that I have to leave the internet unblocked: I’m fact checking, getting quotes right, and using my editing software (over and over and over after changes). My editing software is online. Sigh.

I need to be able to get to my blog and Wattpad to collect comments.

All those critical words left as I posted scenes I am now mining for gold: if something bothered ONE reader enough to mention it in the comments, you can be sure it bothered others – who didn’t take the time to notice, analyze, and write to me about it. Thanks, commenters! You rock.

I’m happy to say it’s been POSSIBLE. Have you noticed a dearth of posts by regulars lately? Summer? I don’t remember from previous years, but it seems I have to surf harder to find anything acceptable to read, and then I dump it more easily because there ISN’T any, and get to work in spite of the distractions. So ‘surfing the internet’ isn’t the distraction it could be.

Reading and storing critiques (and I must admit, some of the lovely positive comments) is taking a fair amount of time. I might have done it as I posted, but then Pride’s Children would probably never have happened – you’re not supposed to put too much time into fixing minutiae as you write, or you get bogged down in far worse questions about native intelligence, ability, and the suitability of the WIP.

[I’m looking into Anti-Social, a little brother of Freedom which blocks only social sites – and any others you add to its list. Possibly I could add everything else I regularly surf – and see if that was good enough.]

Best ways to use editing software

I use AutoCrit, because, although it is online (I think they’re tinkering with it and making it better, though I’d rather have a standalone on my computer), it has the most and the easiest-to-use features for fiction I’ve found in all the software I tried.

Its best feature is a VERY light hand on suggestions – and those based more on a database of similar fiction. Some of the editing software out there thinks it’s an English teacher. And the grammar editors, such as the one included with Word, are painful. Especially for writers of fiction, but just painful.

Problem areas in my writing

My repeated sins are those of a tired or lazy brain: I find myself using the same words, often with different meanings, because a particular word, once used, leaves some kind of mental trace that gives it preference the next time I need a word. A halo, if you please.

Just in the image that starts this post, you see an example: the original has ‘quiet little book signing’ and ‘he lay so quiet.’ On the first page. Within paragraphs of each other. Eeek!

And in something that’s been up for years – nobody ever mentioned this! C’mon people, I ASKED for critique! I meant it!

But the almost-final version of that scene was written either before I purchased AutoCrit, or somewhere within my first months of having it, and didn’t go through the extensive vetting I do now (and am re-doing for every scene before I let them out to paying customers).

I guess you might say it’s a testament to my writing skills and beautiful storytelling that I got away with this – in a story that’s been read here and on Wattpad AT LEAST a hundred times all the way through.

BTW, that’s no excuse.

Other problems in my writing

I think I’ll keep the rest of them quiet for now; there are many, many are fixable, and I would rather seem like a polished writer than completely let you all down!

RELEVANCE to the final DIY product

The remainder of this post is about USING the editing software – but once I get into a working loop, I can usually forget most of the distractions of the net at least for a while, so it’s been worth it.

DO NOTE that you lose all your italics when you paste things into AC, which sometimes makes for oddities.

But it has also been a complete disruption of ‘the way I write.’

And useful to find out that, if I have to, I can.

I don’t like it; the freedom feels uncomfortably like lack of boundaries between the writing world and the real one.

And note that I don’t apply AC to writing until I’M finished with writing AND editing on my own. I don’t use AC to write; only for final revision – and then VERY thoroughly.

And afterward I let the computer read it to me – and I listen.

 So which AutoCrit features are my most useful ones?

All of them. I use every single one of the tabs at least part of the time. Oh, except for Pacing. I don’t get why that one picks certain paragraphs to flag.

I’m often quite surprised at what it turns up in a ‘finished’ scene.

AC’s little grammar lessons on each topic are a quick review of good practices. (Click on How do I use… link).

Other than that, here’s the list of features for subscribers, underlined (the free version lets you check 500 words max, and only gives you access to a couple of the features):

Pacing and Momentum:

The feature I use here is Sentence Variation. It shows you a bar graph of EVERY sentence in your text in order, and summarizes how many of each you have. I use it especially to check my LONG sentences – click on the bar, and they are highlighted in the text – to make sure they parse correctly into chunks and don’t FEEL long.


Dialogue Tags – I use as few as possible, so it’s nice to have them flag the ‘saids,’ which I use mainly to keep groups scenes moving well. In group scenes, more creative dialogue tags may interfere with just keeping the reader clear as to who’s speaking, so ‘said’ is my go to. Otherwise, such as in the example above where I replaced

“You seemed startled,” said Elise Carter, her face a study in tact, “and then you went further into that head of yours.”


“You seemed alarmed.” Elise’s face was a study in tact. “Then you went further into that head of yours.”

To me, the second is more like Kary’s perception than the first, which sounds like a narrator, so I like the second one better. Plus why would she think of Elise’s last name? So I arranged for you to find out Elise’s last name a bit later in the scene in a more natural way, and one more edit DONE.

Adverbs in Dialogue – I rarely use ‘said quietly’ instead of ‘whispered’ unless there is a real distinction there, but often those adverb/weak verb combinations CAN be replaced with a single stronger verb, and it’s a good idea to check what on Earth your brain was thinking when you wrote the thing.

Strong writing:

I check Adverbs, Cliches, Redundancies, and Unnecessary filler words. Each is a quick judgement call. For some characters, the cliches are on purpose.

I mostly ignore Passive Voice and Showing vs. Telling, as I don’t do those things accidentally.

Word choice:

Initial Pronouns and Names and Sentence Starters are useful if you have a habit of clunky sentences, all starting with a name, pronoun, conjunction (And, But…), or ‘ing’ construction.

Generic descriptions flags things like ‘very’ and ‘great.’ I use those mostly in sarcastic comments in direct internal monologue, ie the character talking to herself, or in dialogue to show a character’s speech patterns. But it IS useful to do a quick check to see if you really need ‘really’ in that sentence.

I don’t like the way Homonyms is executed. I get the impression they don’t want to show their actual list, or it is too long to show conveniently, but it shows ALL possible homonyms at the same time, with no way to just check the versions of ‘your’ – so I find it quite useless. There is no way I’m going to write ‘ewe’ when I mean ‘you,’ so having it flagged doesn’t help me at all.

Those I have problems with I do on my own with the Find function in Scrivener, and I’ve tried adding them to the Personal Words selection, but there is a problem there I’ve asked them to look into when a word has an apostrophe. So I know darn well there are ‘yours’ in there, and I can’t find them in AC. Otherwise, Personal Words can be useful – if you think you have a bad habit of overusing certain uncommon words (I have ‘autopilot’ in there), you can add it to your personal list, and AC will flag them for you. I seem to have broken this feature, so I’ve sent in a question about what to do, and haven’t gotten a response yet. The words I put in before I got cute and tried to add some of the homonyms I have trouble with (so I can see just them) still work.


Repeated Words, Repeated Uncommon Words, and Repeated phrases help you notice when you’ve used the same thing within a paragraph or two. Word frequency and Phrase frequency examine the whole text you inserted into the Editor, to give you a total count. Both are quite handy.

I use this one a lot, and examine what it highlights very carefully before I decide whether to leave a repeat or use a synonym – and then I have to rerun the analysis with the new text, because I have the habit of repeating a different word when I change a duplicate.

Sometimes editing repetition feels like chasing my tail, but IF I use it, I want it to be by choice, not accident – for a specific purpose, rather than because my brain is lazy or fogged. Another set of judgment calls, supported by a program which shows me what I actually did, rather than what I think I did.

Compare to fiction:

This last tab has two selections – Overused Words and Combination Report. The latter does Overused Words, Repeated Words and Phrases, and Personal Words in a clickable format so you can check all these things quickly in one place if you wish to.

But the main point is to compare YOUR work to a database consisting of: fiction (default), YA fiction, SFF, or Romance, and to show you how your choice of words stacks up to a wide variety of works in these categories. This is new – there used to be just fiction and non-fiction (I think – it seems to have disappeared, and I may be remembering incorrectly as I never used AC for non-fiction like blog posts).

All comments welcome – editing is a perennial.

Scrivener one-click ebook for busy writers

image of the first two pages of Pride's Children, Book 1, Chapter 1



The proof is in the pudding.

I have:

  • Chapter headings
  • Chapter titles
  • Epigraphs
  • Epigraph attributions
  • Scene descriptor (the point of view character)
  • Date/time/place stamp
  • Left justified first paragraphs
  • The first few words in capitals

Shown below, I also have:

  • the ability to set off text inserts WITHIN scenes (an email message, a scene from a movie, a different format to mark that the text is from an audience WATCHING the scene as a background).
PRIDE'S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 4

PRIDE’S CHILDREN, Chapter 1, Scene 4

This page shows a pov change within the chapter to a different character, the continuing date/time/place setting to orient the reader (previous scene was in California), and the audience reaction to the TV interview going on (indicated by a set-off italicized text line).

This ‘look’ for my chapters and scenes now happens automatically – which was my goal before editing.

This capability, which takes a bit of learning how to set it up (not hard) in Scrivener, gives me the one-click functionality I was looking for before heading into the final editing round. I can make a change to my source files, click Compile, and in about ten seconds have a completely ready ebook (.epub and .mobi) with NO hand-coding at all.

If I want to have that pesky right indent (so my block quotes are set off nicely on BOTH sides, I will have to go the one extra step I talked about, making a MINOR one or two line change to the CSS, and putting the .epub back together, then using KINDLEGEN or the Kindle Previewer to generate a .mobi from the .epub (really, really simple), I can take the extra time.

What does it take to set up?

The main benefit is that, while I have a LOT of special formatting in Pride’s Children, the changes to the source text were fairly minimal. Here is what my Scrivener Binder looks like:



The ONLY thing I ended up having to change in my original Binder was that each scene is now a folder with the text as a text file in the folder. This allows the Scene FOLDER to have the name of the pov character (which is what appears on the transitions to the next scene), and, within the folder, the date/time/place line.

It still looks pretty normal for a Binder for a novel.

How complicated is this to set up?

Most of all DO NO HARM was my motto. I didn’t want to do ANYTHING which might interfere with the ability of an ereader to flow text in the size and font chosen by the READER.

I am NOT using anything near Scrivener’s full available complexity. Scrivener includes group files (with separate formatting options) in the list of objects in the binder with their own levels, and which can each have separate formatting applied to the Title and Text.

I am including NO images or image placeholders in my ebooks – I am a bit leery of ebooks meant to be viewed easily on what is now hundreds of ‘devices’ from iPhone screens to an app on your desktop. I’m sure it can be done, but I don’t want, for the sake of a cute Chapter heading GIF, to have to evaluate the .epub on all kinds of devices. Not at this point.

Maybe later, if I get better at this.

And certainly for the POD from the accompanying, easy to set up pdf Compile in Scrivener – because with a pdf you can see exactly what you are sending to the printer.

What Scrivener Compile settings do you need to learn about?

  • The settings on the Contents tab
  • Separators between files and folders
  • The settings on the Formatting tab

For the basics, that’s all I used.

What changes were necessary to the source files?

Originally, I had each folder labeled something like ‘Chapter 1’ for the chapter folders, and ‘Scene 1.4’ for the scene text files.

Now I use them a bit differently, and I did all this by experimenting with the ability to take each container (folder, file, or file group) and choose different formatting for its title and its contents (text). The CHAPTER folder now has the TITLE of the chapter as its title, and the SCENE folder now has the NAME of the POV character as its TITLE.

The basic easy trick for headers

So, every time you need a different kind of formatting for a line or lines, make sure that it is the only kind of text in its container.

For each item, you choose to include its title and/or its text – in the Contents tab. So you can choose only the title if all you need is title formatting.

The easy trick for complicated formatting WITHIN the text

Here, if you want to do what I do, and include bits of song lyrics (with different formatting), for example, you need to learn TWO Scrivener features:

  • Formatting menu/Formatting/Preserve formatting
  • Formatting menu/Text/Tabs and indents…

I highly recommend reading the manual until you know exactly how these features interact with each other and with the formatting coming from the Formatting tab.

The trick is that you can set up formatting for the special pieces WITHIN your source file, and pass it through to the final ebook by EXCLUDING it from the normal formatting for that level.

CAUTION: With ebooks, be careful not to try to control the font and fontsize within these pieces, unless you’re willing to make sure the ereaders won’t have a problem with text in a different font from the one selected by the reader. It can be done, obviously, because ereaders usually have at least one serif and on sans serif font withing their available fonts. But handling embedded fonts, and pieces NOT using the automatic font choices is WAY beyond the scope of this post – you’re in for some serious HTML and CSS and font embedding if you want to try to control appearances that closely. Like electric controls on cars, the more things you want to control with electricity, the more little electric motors and control systems you have to potentially go wrong.

 An example of formatting within the scene

See the Scene 4 image above. As I mentioned before, I wanted to be able to indicate that the audience watching the TV interview was reacting to what was being said, but the host and guest would not necessarily react or converse with that audience.

I chose to select the audience reaction bit, italicize it, and prevent the scene formatting from being applied to it. Once I had the formatting the way I wanted it (an extra .25 left indent, italics), I created a Preset so I could do it more easily to the rest of the pieces with the same formatting.

This is how it looks withing my source text:

Scene 4 embedded text with Preserve formatting applied.

Scene 4 embedded text with Preserve formatting applied.

The blue box with the dashed outline shows you exactly which text pieces has Preserve formatting applied, as you normally don’t want to do ANY formatting withing the source text – because this inhibits the main Scrivener ability – to let the writer get the text out anywhichway – and then format it to look pretty in the Compile step.

Note that I also have Invisibles turned on, so you can see where the spaces and returns are – a handy feature.

 Happy formatting

I’m stopping here because the only people interested are those who can see the advantages of having such easy access to formatting your own ebook, and probably already have Scrivener, and these people will want to do their own version.

This was meant to be a taste for us DIY types – it isn’t hard to do what I did, it looks good (and can be made fancier by a LOT if you like), and there was even more information about sources in the previous post. A nod to Ed Ditto, his website, and book again, because it made me aware that it COULD be fast and easy, so I dug into the controls.

And my hat’s off to Scrivener – the whole ability to create an ebook after I set it up with ONE CLICK is built into their amazing program.


Self-publishing writers have too many choices!


It constantly amazes me, this ability the human brain has to make choices – and the vast number of them available to those of us in the developed world.

Professional cover designer Dane Low put up a video of the process of creating a cookbook cover over on Joel Friedlander’s blog today. A billion choices out of a sea of images.

Mine wasn’t that elaborate, and yet it took me three months (and I promise to show it first here when I’m a bit closer to publication – one wants to save the Ta Das! for when they will do some marketing good).

I had several goals for the interior formatting of my first book, Pride’s Children:

  • I wanted to make it as simple as possible to do updates – like fix typos.
  • I wanted to avoid as much hand-coding as possible – because that always takes a lot of time, and sometimes that effort makes me settle for less than I really want. Plus it’s a really great way to introduce typos.
  • I did NOT want to spend a lot of time doing the things Jaye Manus recommends on her blog for writers who work with Word (sorry, Jaye!), as I’d long ago tired of using Word for writing fiction and keeping it looking good, even though I’ve mastered styles, and have used them successfully before to make the manuscript look the way I wanted it to. Note: I still use Word all the time for other stuff, like letters.
  • I wanted to set up a uniform look for the two other books of the Pride’s Children trilogy.
  • I wanted to make the READING experience as transparent as possible for the reader, so I don’t want anything that might get in the way of a reader choosing her font, or font sizes, or other text-flow options.
  • I wanted it to look, as much as possible, like a ‘real’ (ie, ‘printed’) book. You know, like the old ones on my bookshelves?
  • I wanted typographical niceties: indented quotes set in a slightly smaller type-size, navigational headings, ALL CAPS and no indent to start paragraphs, a decent table of contents.
  • And I wanted it to be a good model for the eventual printed version, not a completely different animal.

In other words, my standards have been set by all the books I’ve read in my lifetime, and I want all those features in my books.

Scrivener to the rescue

When I bought Scrivener (several years ago now – where DOES the time go?), I did it partly because of its ability to create an ebook from your text in both .epub and .mobi formats – regardless of how you typed the stuff in.

A look through my source files in my .scriv project file shows a shocking number of different formats. It would have taken me either a lot of paying attention to keep it looking uniform as I wrote in Word, or a lot of processing at the end – a word-processing file per chapter seemed as much as I could manage at a time, and combining files to make a whole book is WORK in Word.

None of this is to say anything at all about other writers’ workflow or software choices.

But with my usually fogged CFS brain, the command to self to KISS was imperative: I can focus on things intensely for a while sometimes, but don’t do nearly as well when I have to keep it up over months and years.

So. I’ve spent the last two weeks learning Compile in Scrivener (the word they’ve selected to mean: put all this junk together into a unified document), feeding it my text, and adjusting the Compile options until it looked the way I wanted it to.

I have it down to the target: I choose Compile, click ONE button, and I have a new ebook instantly, which will open properly in my Kindle viewers or Adobe Digital Editions, and complains not at all when I make it reformat the whole thing for one tiny change. Three chapters takes under 5 SECONDS.

Yesterday, I repeated the process over THIRTY times. It took longer to VIEW my results than to create them, a very welcome reversal of the usual way it goes.

Post-production – refining after using Scrivener

I worked hard at it – you should see my marked-up copy of the Scrivener manual!

But I managed to set up the formatting in all but ONE detail to be automatic. That detail is the RIGHT INDENT.

I want to use right indents paired with left indents to set off sections of the text (a movie, an email, a quotation used for an epigraph). Scrivener (and, to be fair, the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines) does not support a right indent. Per se.

But it occurred to me that changing the MARGIN settings for indented paragraphs (as long as the change is relative from the margins, in ems, and not a hard-coded number such as 0.5″) would serve just fine.

So I set up Scrivener to create paragraph types with LEFT INDENTS.

NOTE: the above sample does NOT show this post-processing step; this is what it looks like straight out of Scrivener.

HTML, CSS, and formatting for ebooks – easy version

I had no real desire to learn HTML, and had no idea what a CSS (cascading style sheet) was, but I plunged into Paul Salvette’s book on formatting (The eBook Design and Development Guide) and Ed Ditto’s (How to format…for Kindle…in one afternoon), both of which I bought ages ago and hadn’t even opened, because I knew this day was coming.

That plus myriad other sources taught me just enough to be dangerous adventurous enough to get the free Mac text editor TextWrangler, and actually look into the files generated by Scrivener, to see if I could find the needed modification

To do this you first Unzip the .epub file (I used a tiny Applescript program ePub Zip/Unzip 3.0 I found online at nyu.edu here from instructor Fred Chasen – anything you have will work as well, I’m sure, but the web makes it appear you need to spend big bucks to get something to unzip and zip your epub files, and you don’t.)

* * * * * * * * * * *

WARNING – It would have saved me a LOT of time had I known the following:

You can examine the files packaged into an .epub, but not into a .mobi produced by Kindlegen.

* * * * * * * * * * *

IN the CSS files, which are quite clean (to my uneducated eye – they didn’t look THAT different to what Paul so carefully constructs in his book), I found the line showing the LEFT INDENT (as a LEFT MARGIN setting ALREADY!), and merely duplicated the number into the slot for the RIGHT MARGIN, replacing the 0.0 that was already there, marking the space for me, and that was my only change (so far).

Put the changed CSS file(s) back into the .epub bundle (ePub Zip/Unzip again – give it the folder, it produces the epub and vice versa), and you are back to where you started, but now the CSS files have the right AND left margins set for those indented paragraphs! And in a way (I think/hope) that will not affect your Kindle and Nook experiences.

I haven’t gotten so far as to test these things on actual ereaders, because that requires the additional step of sideloading the .epub or .mobi files into the devices, which I know how to do, but is not a step you want to do over and over while chasing formatting changes.

IF I have problems after the extensive testing required, I will update this post or write another.

Kindlegen rocks!

Fortunately, this didn’t turn out to actually matter, because, once you have the .epub file doing what you want, you just DRAG IT INTO KINDLEGEN, and Kindlegen turns a perfectly good .epub into a proprietary format which currently packages TWO kinds of Kindle ebooks, one for the newer Fire models (using the latest bells and whistles) plus one for the older models), with absolutely NO effort from you.

I work exclusively on the Mac, and had to start up Terminal, drag Kindlegen’s icon into Terminal, drag the .epub file into Terminal, and voilà, almost instantly a file appears with the same name as the .epub file, but with a .mobi extension, and YOU ARE COMPLETELY DONE.

So, another success for the one-click approach to ebook changes.

And that’s how the rabbit go IN the hat

Note that the file above is NOT EDITED; I just threw in the same beginning of Chapter 1 as is currently on the blog. There are minor formatting changes I’m going to do to it (mostly, reduced the number of sections set in italics, to go with what I have in the later chapters – which were revised more recently).

Comments very welcome on suggested changes, impressions of the results, anything you can think of – I’m getting closer, and the decisions’ surrounding concrete is starting to set. Specific question: I use bold in this version in the SCENE HEADINGS – is it helpful – or annoying?

I can still fix things later (isn’t the modern world fabulous?), but I’d like to go to press (hehe) with as many things finalized as I possibly can AHEAD OF TIME.

And no, I didn’t intend to write such a long post this morning, but it seemed necessary to share the process, which had a few fillips different from what I’ve seen – and gives me a very quick way to change things from now on (IF I actually know what I’m doing). I’ve been VERY busy learning, but didn’t have much new to say until I finished!

I write to hear myself think


I will be looking for someone to study my damaged brain.

Brain research

Brain researchers get opportunities to study how the brain works, mostly by accident. In a civilized country, we don’t destroy part of a human’s brain to see 1) if said human can survive without the damaged part, and 2) what effect having a particular part missing has on thought processes and the ability to function in our increasingly complex world.

So researchers have to depend on those poor souls who have a part of their brain destroyed by disease or accident – and who are willing to let said researchers poke around and submit them to endless testing. They have studied people who have no short-term memory, or people who have lost their sense of smell, or people who cannot recognize themselves in a mirror.

Brain research subject here

Other people take notes when they write, before they write, after they write. I take a LOT of notes.

Why do I think I might be useful to researchers? Because I seem to think outside my head, and store endless notes before, during, and after the process of writing fiction.

My average seems to be somewhere around 10 to 20 external words per word of finished fiction.

That’s a lot.

How much verbiage are we talking about here?

When I stopped to think about it, it means that for 10,000 words – a typical chapter – of Pride’s Children, I have written 100,000 to 200,000 extra words. When I finish Book 1, at around 150K words, I will have, stored in files, on the order of 1.5-3.0M words. And when I finish the whole story, at 400-500K words, there will be 4 to 10 MILLION words in these files.

Those are my ‘learning to write’ words, representing the more than 10,000 hours I have spent on this project, and what will be my first published work.

I keep track of everything in writing – personal and story – as it occurs to me. This clears it out of my brain so I can think of the next bit. So the files are closely reasoned bits of why a character would or would not do something – mixed in with bits of how I slept last night and why my brain refuses to kick on this morning.

Increasing writing speed – NOT

You’d think I’d get better at it, wouldn’t you? That I could figure out how to shorten the process of turning ideas and outlines and spreadsheets into a story.

Instead, what seems to have happened is that I have gotten very fast at producing those 10-20 words. I let the imagination run free – on the computer – getting it all out where I can’t lose it, because my in-brain storage system is damaged, and I need to use an external hard drive.

What might this mean for researchers studying ME/CFS?

I’m pretty sure all this happens because of the CFS – the brain is actually damaged in some important way, and I have found a way to operate around the damage, so I can write.

Surely this means I might be of use to SOMEONE in the medical research community?

And the best part for all involved? I won’t have to actually let them study me. I can give them my files, my best wishes, and let them go through all that stuff for hints of useful bits. There should be some grad student somewhere who can figure out how to handle the deluge without getting wet.

It’s already digitized, guys! Except for the twenty or so packed notebooks, and reams of early drafts printed out, it is in a digital form which someone could invent a bot to read, AND I am a tidy person: when I learned Scrivener (where all this stuff is stored in projects), I realized that the most important thing I could do for posterity was to date-stamp every entry.

And most of the files are in strict chronological order.

I can’t see how much more useful I could be to medical science than if I went out and purposely put a hole in my brain.

Let me know.

How about you? Are you a useful subject for brain study?

Writing the triangle story: bending Dramatica to the writer’s will

I seem to be attracted to writing triangles. My work-in-progress, Pride’s Children, is an adult love triangle. A play I wrote, Tangled Webs, is another triangle story, this time about a young woman who finds out she’s adopted – and is the bone of contention between her two mothers.

I am fascinated by triangle stories: Agnes of God, by John Pielmeier, tells the story of a young nun who has an unexpected child – and the fight over her soul between the Mother Superior of her convent and the court-ordered psychiatrist who must try to figure out how the baby ended up dead. Eleemosynary, a play by Lee Blessing, tells the story of three generations of women in a family.

A proper triangle has two-person interactions between each pairing. The interest comes from the rotating interaction between three characters – if a story is merely that a guy is interested in two different women, and picks one over the other, it isn’t what I call a proper triangle: the women MUST interact separately of their interaction with the man, for it to pique my interest.

So what makes a proper triangle story? Continue reading

Story as mosaic: using Dramatica as nucleation sites for the individual tiles

ennucleation/nucleation* sites

I don’t see a lot of people talking on the self-publishing forums about using Dramatica to plot their novels. I do.

As I’m re-writing/revising/editing/re-visioning my novel-in-progress, I’m returning to the Dramatica text boxes I blithely filled in (encoded) years ago with the ideas that came from the story-as-it-was, and deepening my understanding of each of these items, as the scenes I assigned the ‘apps’ – the Dramatica appreciations (elements) – to come up for review. Continue reading

Scary technology upgrades: software changes

A manuscript – paper or electronic – represents more hours of a writer’s life than most of us can contemplate losing. But for electronic ones there is a further hazard: having your only machine-readable copy be too old for contemporary computers. The longer it takes from the first word to a published version, in this day of rapid technology change, the more it is possible that your oldest files – the ones you haven’t opened in a long time – are lost.

I have at least one complete mystery novel on 3.5″ floppy discs in Macwrite written on a Macintosh. I have a single bound copy of the finished manuscript, and a box in the basement which may contain another. That’s it. DH tried reading the floppies into a Windows machine with no success. That novel is not a high priority – and I do have two paper copies in the event I want to try to publish it again. And I can read it into text with DragonDictate (since I can SEE the words). Or scan and use OCR software plus hand corrections. I haven’t even really tried reading the floppies – they haven’t gone through computer guru offspring yet.

The WIP is another matter. I’m determined to finish Pride’s Children, and post it on the blog’s free fiction page as I edit each Chapter. The manuscript consists of current edited files for the first chapters, the original revised drafts on paper (filling two banker’s boxes), and, I was hoping, digital versions of the third draft.

I have completed – thanks Scrivener AND MS Word 2004 for Mac – the scary process of getting an up-to-date copy, into Scrivener, of text that I have been creating since early in the century, on at least four different versions of Macs, starting with a Macintosh I named Excalibur (I can’t remember what it was!), an iMac, and a Powerbook.

The files were so old, some of them, that Scrivener couldn’t open them. Eek! Fortunately, I imported them to my then-new Macbook in 2006 (!), and haven’t lost them, and Word 2004 (my default wordprocessor until it doesn’t work any more) successfully opened these files so ancient they didn’t have DATES in Finder – and were Read-only – and created new versions in .doc format which Scrivener had no trouble opening.

All I lost, during the Scrivener import (it translates to .rtf for import), was Word’s Hidden text feature. I had used it to put my structure, in Hidden text so it wouldn’t print or show if I didn’t want it to, into the same files that held the text. I have decided to keep the structure, in Scrivener, in a parallel set of files, so Hidden text isn’t necessary any more. Scrivener, with its capacity to handle large projects with lots of files in one place, now contains every word – text AND structure.

Scrivener even seems to have imported Styles from Word: the files have the same look as they did in Word. I have to dig into that next.

But something I have been avoiding for YEARS, and fearing for YEARS, is now done.

And I didn’t have to OCR or DragonDictate stacks of paper which contain my backup of a novel which now runs at around 350,000 words. Yup. And which will be divided conveniently into a duology, because with Dramatica for structure, the ability to split was built in a long time ago.

Dramatica changes more slowly – I’m on my second incantation (Dramatica Pro 4.0?). There is a more current one which I may upgrade to when I’m finished, but the present version is working fine on the Macbook (I know, I know – ancient software), and I’m assuming (careful there) that the newest version will be backward compatible in reading its files when and if I buy it.

I am a slow adopter of new versions, and tend to make the new version (of things such as Firefox) LOOK as close to the old version as the developers will allow, if forced to upgrade because things don’t work, or work too slowly. Not one to go out and get shiny new objects – because I can’t afford the learning curve.

Unless forced to. I decided to do Scrivener because it comes with the ability to produce ebooks in various formats, and also seems designed to handle future formats.

I don’t object to progress, per se, but I don’t pursue it for its own sake. The cost, to my slow brain, has to be worth it. I can’t often afford the energy and time required to upgrade along with software and hardware, but instead tend to skip as many generations as I think I can get away with. Only this time I almost waited too long.

In this case – adopting Scrivener – I was also conscious of the huge disparity in technology over the last decade. Even my Macbook – Version 1,1 – is an anachronism, regardless of the fact that I doubled its RAM (to 2GB!) and upgraded its internal HD from 60GB to 750GB (all by my lonesome – with help from all kinds of info on the web and on Youtube – yay modern learning).

Now off to do two things with this massive Scrivener project (which BTW doesn’t seem to slow Scrivener down at all – compared to working with my own file system and in Word, I am amazed already): 1) create the file which I may copyright as a WIP, so that I can 2) start putting the edited novel up on the Free Fiction section of the blog.

I am on my way! Comments from writers who have navigated the process of copyrighting novels serialized online especially welcome – after digesting the NOLO Copyright Handbook I can think of at least THREE ways to do it, and none of them sound exactly right.

Thoughts? Advice?

Digitizing reality: the fictive approximation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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