Tag Archives: writing

The Greatest Generation is now gone


At the beginning of 2014, my children had four living grandparents 90 or over.

As of last week, they have none. Husband’s dad, a good man, at 97, the last of our beloved parents, now knows if there is an afterlife or not. Our parents are missed, and there is nothing anyone can do about it except remember them.

It is sobering to think about now being the matriarch and patriarch of anything: husband and I are both eldest children. My parents did that so well for so long, and I can still remember my grandparents in Mexico doing the same thing. And I am not capable of doing any of what they did, keeping the family together by having everyone over for dinner on Sundays or Mondays, holidays and birthdays. I have been the beneficiary, and can’t pass it on. Our kids are currently in San Francisco, Boulder, and Troy, NY.

I have so many stories, and I have passed them on (ask my kids – I’ve talked their ears off), but I have not the energy to write many of them, not while I’m still writing fiction myself: there are only so many hours in a day I can use, and stories are best transmitted in person.

Making new traditions

I have come up with the idea of us going to a resort once a year, all of us. Not at Christmas or Thanksgiving, but at a convenient time. We can see each other every day, spend time with slow Mom on the beach or in the pool, and then those who can will take advantage of whatever the resort and local area have to offer, and maybe gather for dinner. For that talking part. A way to bring together someone with no energy and descendants with it in abundance. As long as the old folk can travel.

This way, I reason, they can go to the in-laws (when they have them) for holidays without trying to be in two places at once.

We’ll see if it works out; but we can’t maintain the family homestead, an awkward but much loved house with way too much space and maintenance, and too many stairs, just so the small clan can gather at a time when travel is horrible and in a place (suburban central NJ) where you have to go elsewhere to do anything. I have failed the task of ‘everyone is going to Grandma’s house.’

So be it.

At home in Mexico, a gigantic extended family still gathers – but we don’t go.

Now to focus on the two of us

I have to make my tiny daily allotment of energy cover getting out from under the responsibilities, which are becoming overwhelming (mostly for husband), and out of the social isolation which comes from having little energy to go anywhere.

Selling a house and moving, possibly cross-country, and settling in to a retirement community, is non-trivial, but it is only going to get harder. Most people leave it too long, and move in a crisis. I need things I can’t walk to here: a pool, a gym, facilities like a sound studio – and many of the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) have them. We need to find friends – ours here are moving away, or are no longer with us.

And I am aware of how delicate my ability to write is: everything that has come along has stolen days worth of writing because it needed that focus and clarity I can only achieve for a couple of hours a day at most.

The last of the big brain-sucking tasks,

finishing the tax returns for my parents, who were both American citizens even though they lived in Mexico since 1957 (and Pepita when she was a child), was finished yesterday. Daddy’s went with the postman.

I gritted my teeth and filled out Mother’s immediately following, aware that if I set the second task down I would have to learn from scratch all the tasks and arcane instructions – when I could force myself to do it again some time in the future. It was such a huge task (for me – not for a normal human), and consumed so many hours since June 2016 when my sisters gave up and asked me to do it, that I despaired of ever finishing. Mother’s is sitting in a sealed envelope for the postman today.

Each return was four simple pages. Above the surface there is no evidence of the frantic paddling below that reading and filing take, IRS worksheets and arcane bits from processes intended to make it hard for the very rich to take everything with them (ie, hand it over to their rich heirs). To finally end up at the same point for each detour: $0.00 – insert in box X of form 1040.

And on the bottom line: no tax owed. Which is good, because, IIRC, IRS penalties for filing late are some percentage of the tax owed.

I made every mistake possible during my filing of this twice-in-a-lifetime (mine) paperwork, including, yesterday, deleting the just completed return by writing the IRS instructions over it. Don’t tell me I should have let a tax accountant do it. Just believe me that it would have been far worse, and on someone else’s brisk timetable (the horror!).

I can do this stuff: but it takes days’ and days’ worth of all the energy I have.

And I learn nothing that I can use again. I fervently hope.

I’m a writer now, and still working

I plan to finish Pride’s Children, Books 2 and 3. Several nice people have claimed they’re waiting for the rest of the trilogy. As long as life and brain hold out, that’s the plan, and I’m very aware it doesn’t depend on my intentions. I hope God isn’t laughing too hard.

With the latest marvelous review, I have made some new connections on Goodreads, and possibly learned some useful marketing tips.

I despair at where the energy will have to come from to do a better marketing job, but obscurity is the other option, and I’m not happy with that, either.

When I do settle in to the writing, though, the deep pleasure is still there; my beta reader is content and says I haven’t lost it; and I still experience that moment, for each scene, when it all clicks and I know: that’s the way it really happened.

Given that Olympic skiing is off my list of possibilities, I’m glad I have the writing one for the story only I can finish.

There is so much yet to learn

A huge part of life is doing the best I can so that, if they every figure out ME/CFS, and it isn’t too late for me, I will be able to take advantage of the medical research, and maybe write faster. Or go skiing again.

My support group on Facebook has other people like me, and invaluable sustenance (as well as overwhelming loss). We CFS folk have little hope, but losing it all hasn’t happened for me yet.

If I did, I have no idea what I’d do all day.

But we are the oldest generation now, husband and I, and we don’t give up. Yet.

That’s why I’ve been missing from the blogging world. Hope you’ve all been okay.


What do disabled writers fear most?


Waiting since June 30, 2014:

You fear getting worse. Because you can. Get worse.

And when writing is a marginal activity already, getting worse can be the snowflake that sets off the avalanche.

When I was young and able – a status not all people who are disabled can claim – I thought I could handle ANYTHING that Life tossed at me.

I was me – I’d figure out a way. Somehow. Eventually. And I always seemed to. I had a brain!

Now that the only way out is death – which is, I hope, still not close – I am facing the trauma of becoming even more disabled, more dependent on other people, less able to care for myself.

Frankly, it scares the hell out of me.

I fear losing even more of my mind. Now, if the planets are aligned, and I have done everything correctly, I get to live in the simulacrum of the mind I used to have – quick-witted and opinionated and so-often right – for at least a little while every day, or to feel it there, right beyond my fingertips if I take that nap, stop leaving the house so many times in a week, get to bed early: it’s there, it hasn’t gone completely, and I had it yesterday, maybe today, perhaps tomorrow.

I have already told my husband to put me in an Alzheimer’s/dementia facility if my mind goes – I don’t want his tender care, watching over me, stuck with that version of me. My mother and my grandmother sank into that hole, and it isn’t pretty – what if I got CFS because I am somehow genetically weak? And have already passed it on to my kids – the older two without knowing, and the third, the girl, after I was sick?

That way lies madness.

We all have SOMETHING wrong with us.

And it’s only going to get WORSE.

The happy seniors hiking in the mountains are in the minority: statistics tell me that if I live to 85 (I planned to live to 115), my chances of dementia are 50%.

On top of this unhappy state of affairs (and I have to my credit only one thing: I’ve never asked Why me, Lord?), I have been dealing, for a number of years, with the inability to walk properly – and here I thought it was ‘ONE disability to a customer.’ And it’s getting worse.

Actually, no – if part of you doesn’t work perfectly, if part of you is ‘disabled’ – it has a tendency to put other parts of you at bigger strain, and to make you more likely to get something else. Plus the statistics are exactly the same for you for anything unrelated to your disability as it is for other people: there’s no reason to think having ‘gotten’ your disability, you can now breathe free: people with one thing can be gifted with another unrelated one just fine (CFS and back problems do not usually go together, though possibly less exercise meant less fitness, which led to more susceptibility to back problems, or earlier, or…).

So why do I write about this potentially depressing subject?

You know the answer: because I’m that weird thing called a writer, and that’s how I get my jollies. No, really, I’m compelled to write down – anything that floats through my head. To get it out of there, of course, out where I can beat it with a stick (if you do that while it’s IN your head, there are problems).

There. I feel a bit better. Thanks. Thought you might like to know.

PS I speak only for myself – THAT I’ve learned. Finally.

PPS Going for that delayed nap I should have taken much earlier, but I couldn’t make the decision to, because, well, I’m over the age of consent and resent like heck that my mind needs frequent naps to work at all. Plus – oh, joy – the sheets finally came out of the dryer, and I always nap better on clean sheets. (Note to self – try to remember that, will you?)

PPPS Relentlessly dragging myself back from the brink.

2018: Still here, still writing.

Stubborn cuss.

And note I finally published in late 2015.

How to self-edit fiction with AutoCrit


I keep getting into online discussions with editors (cui bono?) who insist that no writer of fiction can or should self-edit. Not for publication, they say. And they cite the example of so many self-published books which are full of typos and grammar mistakes and spelling errors as proof.

Yes, there are many self-published books which need better editing. According to Sturgeon’s Law (Theodore Sturgeon, 1918-1985, American SF author and critic):

90% of SF is crap, but then 90% of everything is crap.

My paraphrase, but it will serve. It is now being applied particularly to self-published work, but applies to traditionally-published work as well. We can argue about the percentages, but the point is that much work gets published without meeting someone’s standards.

Some of us care. A lot.

I happen to believe that the best gift an author can give herself is to learn to self-edit well enough for publication.

The reason is simple: If you can learn to produce quality work all by yourself, the READER gets the unvarnished best the writer can produce, UNALTERED by someone else.

Voice unaltered. Tone unaltered. Style unaltered. Judgment unaltered. Story unaltered.

The thing which makes a particular writer unique is preserved for the delectation of the reader. Artisanal. As all writing should be.

And it only comes from really being aware of what you write – and why.

Okay. Now that we have the WHY, let’s have the HOW:

Think of the best quality in published traditional work. You should aspire to better that standard.

This is not an easy task. There is learning. And failing. And getting appropriate feedback. And yes, making mistakes in judgment and execution.

But setting yourself a rigorous process, adding to that process as you learn, and following that process isn’t that hard. It just requires becoming aware of the difference between the story in your head, and the story on the page, and not quitting until the difference is as small as you can humanly make it. We call this ‘work.’ Hard work. I have made a contract with my readers that I will do this work before they get to read what I write.

It is work that is rewarded by making you a better writer. Big reward. Useful reward. And, in the long run, it will save you money, frustration, and dealing with people who don’t get your vision for your own work.

Enter the final mechanical stage.

Once I have used everything I have learned about writing from my teachers, books by Sol Stein, Donald Maass, Blake Snyder, the Dramatica team, and all the reference books off- and online, I have a scene or a chapter which needs to be cleansed of dead skin.

It isn’t ready for the beta reader until it is finished, but my ‘finished’ needs the final mechanical stage. I use AutoCrit for this purpose. As close as I can get to the original AutoCrit program which is basically a counter of terms and a comparer of those terms against a database. There is a new version; I’ve learned to ignore the new parts because the last thing in the world I would pay attention to is a program telling me what to write. Writing is my job.

I want the mechanical editor to tell me what I’ve done, in a very black-and-white way. I want it to count for me, because counting adverbs is the most boring thing I can think to do by human. Or counting the number of times a four-word phrase (each possible four-word phrase in my text) is used. Or counting the number of times I have used words or phrases (and showing me where they are). And making a list of unusual words.

For this I use certain specific sections of AutoCrit.

After pasting the text in, I visit the following menu items:

Strong Writing: Adverbs, Cliches, Redundancies, and Unnecessary Filler Words.

Word Choice: Generic Descriptions, and Personal Words and Phrases.

Repetition: Repeated Uncommon Words, Word Frequency, and Phrase Frequency.

For all of the above, I ignore the program’s nagging (such as ‘Remove about 3’ when it somehow decides that I have too many occurrences of ‘that’), because for me, AutoCrit is only an automated counter doing the dirty work for me because I’m too lazy to do it myself (and know that humans given mechanical tasks make huge mistakes because they get BORED).

I do NOT use other sections. Why? Because they judge me. Or someone wrote a little piece of text to put there that sounds just like it. Once we go from comparing the number of times I use ‘that’ to the average for fiction in their database, I have all the information I want from an algorithm.

Pièce de résistance: how to use the information.

This is the writer’s job: every single counted detail from my text, generated easily by a program, is now subject to the final test: Is this the way I want it?

In other words, it’s back to me. Not with suggested ‘improvements.’ Just counted, and displayed for me to decide if it serves my final intent to have the text stay the way I wrote it (remember, I considered it pretty much finished before I tossed it into AutoCrit).

If it shows me clichés from its database that I have used, I have to decide if the character using the cliches uses cliches. Some do, some don’t. Clichés are neither good nor bad. For some characters I will keep the cliché but try to make the sentiment unique again – which leads to some pretty interesting substitutions from that subconscious brain.

If it shows me I have used one of my personal words a certain number of times (my worst lately tends to be ‘get’ and its variations ‘got’ and ‘getting’ and ‘gotten’ – all of which I’ve input to my personal words file in AC), I will decide 1) if there are too many, 2) if they are the only way to say something (rare), 3) if they have a literary intention (parallel structure often leads to word repetition the database can’t account for),…

Generic Descriptions usually have to be separated into two piles: those in dialogue (and even those benefit by tweaking) which mark a specific character; and those in the internal monologue where I dump what other people use a narrator for (It was a dark and stormy…), ie, description. I may have a very good reason (really) for using the generic description, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded to check.

I never, ever, use AC’s Homonyms tab, because it is excessive, and I can spell, and have NEVER yet found myself using the wrong homonym. Okay, maybe two or three times in the 3.5 MILLION words I’ve put through AC, but NOT by using the Homonyms tab. Too much stuff to process – there are a lot of homonyms in English, and they will find all of them and offer what seems like every other word in a red box. There must be a better way to do that mechanically (don’t mark every ‘you’ because it might be ‘ewe’); meanwhile, I put those words I might misspell by accident into my Personal Words file (though, thought, through, thorough).


First, examine every single kind of counted word or phrase that you might not otherwise catch, and

Last, decide whether and how to fix it: you’re the author – it’s your baby.

Very simple.

It still takes time, and a lot of effort, and a lot of thinking, and going back and forth to Scrivener with the text of a scene.

I find I can do about 5-10 corrections at a time, after which I save the results in Scrivener, get a fresh copy of the text, paste it into AC, and re-process that tab/menu/submenu.

All other types of errors – spelling, punctuation, point of view consistency, chronology and plotting, content (was this character a red-head?) – should have been eliminated (by me, the spellchecker, and a dictionary/thesaurus) before I use AC.

But I care – and I’m not using my beta reader except as a first reader. For what should be finished work, so she has as clean an experience as I can make. I don’t want her pristine read complicated by anything that distracts her from the flow; when she tells me something doesn’t work for her, it is going to be taken very seriously.

And that is how I use AutoCrit (I have a Lifetime membership – worth every penny) to do what no human editor should be asked to do (count) and what I don’t want an editor to do (change ANY of my words, which includes suggesting I change them). They may not be happy about this, but it is the least traumatic way for me.

I really should stop even clicking on those ‘everything needs an editor’ posts. Their authors, some of them editors, hate people like me.

Do introvert readers keep books secret?


I belong to several online writer groups, as well as having a circuit of favorite blogs and bloggers, and I can’t believe it took me this long to ask myself this question: do extroverted writers have a major edge when it comes to promotion?

I see people who happily post about their first book, and how they’re hoping that all their ‘peeps’ and advanced street team will be telling everyone to ignore the flaws in their work read their wonderful work.

Maybe some of them are really young.

But it’s more likely that they’re just enthusiastic and love to share.

Does intro/extroversion affect what and how you read?

I didn’t know many readers who were not adults, and not so many of those, when I was growing up. The adults tended to read popular paperbacks, things like The Agony and the Ecstasy or Perry Mason mysteries or even The Thorn Birds, but they also managed to lead normal lives, and didn’t hide books or hide from contact with humans because they were reading.

TV wasn’t so great back then (in the sense of volume), so reading – books and magazines – was one of those uses of time which came under the rubric of ‘entertainment.’ At least in my family.

But I don’t remember reading being something I shared with classmates, and I didn’t see others girls at my school sitting around with books at recess.

You couldn’t have stopped me – I figured it came pre-loaded in my brain, along with a lot of other inconvenient stuff that made me odd.

Does it affect how you share about books?

Having had some experience telling other people about books I liked, and having them blow me off, I’ve been wondering whether it is part of the introvert personality to want to keep things for myself.

And to not want to go to bat for a particular book because who am I to tell other people what to read?

I thought all writers would be introverts

Something about spending time by yourself making up imaginary friends.

But it isn’t at all true.

Having been part of the online indie writing community for the past five years, and read thousands of comments, and contributed my fair share, I finally realized just a couple of days ago that no, we are not all the same happy little introverts, writing away in our little enclaves.

And that some of the writers who claim lots of success are out there shouting from the rooftops about the marvels they have concocted for your delectation.

Whether they have or not.

Squeaky wheel premise? The belief that most people who buy an inexpensive book, especially those who don’t get around to reading it quickly, won’t bother returning it if they don’t like their purchase?

The extroverts just go out and do it themselves.

We’re hiding in the woodwork

Hoping to be discovered by somebody else who will be interested in telling the world for us.

I have to ponder this a while. Figuring it out was startling.

And there are likely to be a significant number of introverts in amongst the readers out there, and possibly some of them are wondering why all the books they see advertised and promoted seem a bit off, for them, because not only would they never act that way, but they would never want to act that way.

I enjoyed Red Sonya, but never in a hundred different lifetimes would I have had any interest in becoming her and wielding my way through the world with a sword.

And we only got Tolkien by accident. He was going to keep it all to himself.

So the problem is double-pronged

Extroverts get in the way between introverts and their potential readers at both ends:

Introvert reader << Extrovert reader << Extrovert writer << Introvert writer,

with all the noise being in the middle.

We need a kind of stealth marketing that bypasses the hullaballoo in between.

I think, after you get over all that, the introvert readers are probably the most loyal out there. And I think they may mention what they like once or twice, but they are constitutionally incapable of being pushy about it, so ‘their’ books don’t get the kind of recommendations, in volume, than the process that propels extrovert books and writers to the tops of the charts.

But that’s just me.

They also have very high standards – because they’re not distracted by the noise.

Whaddaya think?

Making do with everything you’ve got


And I wasn’t even aware of it until I read one of my favorite bloggers, Dave Hingsburger, talking, as he does most days about a little story of people with a disability running into ‘normals.’

My random thoughts about my day

Even in one of my favorite tales, H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which I’ve talked about before, in a highly dysfunctional future society which manages to continue working somehow, and where characteristics have split into the industrious but subterranean Morlocks (who keep the world working but look like trolls), and the fragile beautiful Eloi (who basically do nothing useful but tug at the Traveller’s sympathies because they are scared), there are no disabled people.

Who we are

We get ignored a lot. But worse than that, we get looked down on. We get blamed for sucking up resources and money.

Periodically someone suggests just getting rid of us all (this is called eugenics: from Wikipedia, ‘a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of a human population’).

Please do try to remember that Dr. Stephen Hawking is disabled.

We are everyone else

Do please also try to remember that humans are fragile, and each of us is one second from not being at all, and one second from becoming one of the despised disabled – and in need of all those services they considered too costly before one of them needed them.

We want to work if we can

Some of us can. Some of us try to support ourselves by our own labors (I’m not in that category; I supported myself because I had disability insurance, something everyone should consider as it is 5 times more likely to become disabled than to die during the ‘working years’).

Some of us can’t. Luck of the draw. Chaos theory and an automobile heading toward us one inch to the right (ask novelist Stephen King; or better still, read the end of On Writing, where he has detailed how a careless driver nearly removed him from your list of best-selling authors).

Some disabled people are capable of producing great work; some are capable of producing a different kind and level of work. But most of us take longer, sometimes a great deal longer, to produce that work. Slow brains or bodies make it a lot harder.

Personally, I think those who keep trying anyway – against the disdain and rudeness and downright hatred they might encounter in public spaces (yeah, that kid with Down Syndrome clearing your table at the mall is, how lovely, a target for teens who think they are somehow responsible for their own wonderfulness), are demonstrating how important it is for us as humans to contribute to our society if we can.

And yes, I’m one of those, so it does sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but today is my day, so I may be permitted a small ‘beep.’

And, of course, we are your brothers, sisters, parents, children, neighbors…

Who of us does not know someone in this category?

And which of us gets through life without?

Please celebrate with me.

We’re not different. So would the world kindly stop treating us that way?

And, if it pleases you, buy our work. It might even be created to much higher standards than you think (hence the title of this post) because it costs everything we have. Yes, you are permitted to make me go viral if you like my fiction, and yes, I am working very hard (and incredibly slowly so as to keep to those standards) on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD.

Those who can support themselves by working would really like to do that. And those who can’t will be supported by our taxes, too. I’m good with that.

Please ignore the slightly old-fashioned tone: I have been reading Miss Manners.


Sunday, December 3, 2017




I write today in Uttar Pradesh


Years ago, when I set Pride’s Children in 2005-2006, I worked out Book 1, PURGATORY, in a little more detail than the remaining volumes of the trilogy (there being only so much you can carry in your head at a time, and Book 1 was quite a lot to handle).

I emphasize that the rough draft was complete, Book 1 to the end of Book 3. I know what is happening – I’m an extreme plotter, and little of importance has changed since 2000.

Some of my research has come back, not so much to haunt me, but to challenge me, as I work through turning an unbelievably rough first draft (don’t be fooled by the perfect spelling, and all the punctuation marks being in their places) into the final draft, a one-step scene by scene process for me.

Victory after a month?

I finished a scene, which took me over a month to write, yesterday. I listened to it (one of my final steps) and declared it finished to my exacting standards (hehe), posted in my victory journal, and started working on the next scene immediately.

And immediately ran into a road block at a deceptively-simple plot point:  What time do we leave the hotel in the morning?

Did a bit of quick research on distances, times, and roads in Uttar Pradesh, India, and realized I had a whopping big plot problem.

One part of the research held: I had changed the date of the scene by three days, but the sun still rose within two minutes of my original date. Don’t laugh at me – it’s a plot point, and I pay attention (so the readers doesn’t have to) in great detail when I can. I think I need that degree of detail myself, when writing, to fully go somewhere inside my head which I can’t go to in reality because of time or distance – or because it’s in the past.

Research tools have changed

But when I wrote the rough draft, I was not concerned with details of traffic and distance in India. I did a quick pass, found the things I needed, figured I could nudge or hedge enough to make it work – after all, the scene had bridging a time and spatial gap only as a minor part, and moved on to the more important character plot points.

Today, I had to pay for that.

I had to have characters be somewhere at that particular time – which meant they had to get in a car at an appropriate time, and go to bed at a time which went with the rest, and have dinner first (all of which should be transparent to the reader), and fly in from the other side of the world.

Google Earth: villain and hero

Google Earth showed me it wouldn’t work. Not as I set it up originally, because they do such silly things as calculate how long it will take you from Point A to Point B at a PARTICULAR time of day on a day which might not be in 2005 (that calculation is lost), but can be extrapolated, with some care and patience, from what it might take today. Or next Tuesday.

It’s designed for commuters and tour guides. It is amazingly useful for me.

I hope some day to have a host of Indian readers – it’s a huge market of English speakers which has been barely tapped because of other problems such as rural electrification, vast population density, and its immense size. But I’m not going to be successful with them (assuming they actually like and read my writing) if I mysteriously shorten the distance between two Indian cities in an area where people actually know how long it takes to go from one to the other. The suspension of disbelief will go Poof!

There are many side benefits to spending time with errant details

The area is more real to me than ever before. And it was pretty solid then.

Other details that are important – and peripherally hooked in – such as who sits next to whom during a conversation, suddenly have answers from logic, not imagination. Thank goodness for real-world anchors occasionally! It gets a little rarified in the cloud-cuckoo-land of making it all up as you go.

And because I started Pride’s Children to tell myself a real story, real in the sense that it could happen, not necessarily that it did, I can believe my own lies.


The writer comes from somewhere

Ernest and Pepita Butcher


Life has been biting at my ankles this year, and I’m almost at the point of telling you you can have 2017. I don’t want it.

Mother, 94, has gone to Heaven to be with Daddy, who died three years ago at 91. We  imagine them dancing together again. We all thought they would be here forever, even if diminished from their prime of being one of the most vital and alive couples we ever knew.

My sisters and I, growing up in Mexico City, agreed many times that they were the best parents we knew, and we wouldn’t trade them for anybody else’s parents.

So many stories we can tell, and will remind each other of, but I’m sure everyone has their own family stories, and I can’t do them justice. But they SHOWED us what love is.

And we hope we are passing it on.

Come into my parlor says the writer to the fly


Let me show you around.

Let me show off the carefully constructed room I have created for myself, and I want you to see.

Constructing the tough scenes

I have spent over two weeks crafting the scene I just finished.

I have known for almost all of this century what would happen here: this scene has ONE main job.

It is a pivotal scene: without this one scene, the second book of Pride’s Children, NETHERWORLD, comes to a screeching halt.

The way I write, though, that is not unusual.

Perennial preparation

Outside my window a pair of goldfinches is systematically eating every single seed on the drying heads of the coneflowers planted just, it seems, for them and for this purpose. I never see them at other times of year – the little yellow and black birds, tiny compared to the big fat robins that eat the worms, tinier still compared to the crows and pigeons, and microscopic compared to the hawk that lives around here somewher (in themiddle of suburban NJ!), but bigger than the hummingbirds whose feeder I need to replenish today.

But for the goldfinches to have this feast, a whole host of details must have gone perfectly: the perennial plants were introduced years ago, the weeds have been removed (now by my assistant, as I can’t do much of that any more), the fertilizer was applied, and, most importantly, I have kept that same assistant from removing the drying seedheads of this year’s crop as garden debris. Yes, it would look a lot tidier, but the whole point of the garden was hummingbirds and butterflies – and the other wildlife that eats the various seeds and drinks the different flower nectars.

It is still a surprise to the writer

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m an extreme plotter. Hundreds or thousands of pieces have pre-planned scenes (yes, there is a bit of give – I’m not a psychic) where they will ‘happen.’

This particular scene had the regular mix of other bits attached – some pieces are identifiable as recommended by Save the Cat, Blake Snyder’s books for screenwriters, and others come straight from Donald Maass’ The Fire in Fiction.

I have known about the details for the past two years.

But the details as executed, oh!

And it was still very hard work – three weeks of it – to turn this collection of plot points and character bits, events and revelations, new leads and old connections – into something that I felt would take me there, and be so real I couldn’t imagine changing any of it (now – the weeks have been nothing BUT changing the HOW).

So I can take a reader there with me, invite that reader into this scene, one of the rooms on this long house tour of mine, and have the reader feel at home and comfy in the plush padded armchair whose footstool has a hand-embroidered tapestry cover.

It is finished now

And it is real, and reliably causes my brain to load the experience.

So it’s ready to eventually share. Here’s a taste:

Andrew snippet

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. What? Where? Why? I promise it all connects.

I’m on to the next.

And the goldfinches have gorged themselves for now.



The slow posts of summer 2017


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?






Writing in a niche market is fraught


When feedback is rare, because, as an author, you haven’t ‘taken off’ yet, the individual pieces that come your way can carry far more power than you expect. And do more damage, or, in my case, make you a lot more stubborn.

What is the niche? INDIE NON-GENRE fiction

Classified – or should be – as General Fiction, ‘literary’ only if the quality is up to the standards of readers who specifically choose to read literary fiction (and omnivores).

That quality is subjective, to some extent. There are so many ways for a novel to fail, from poor characterization to too much characterization, from implausible plot to none at all, and from the habit of stopping the story for minute description of details to an overreliance on flowery language.

I amused myself for a while reading the negative reviews of popular literary fiction, until I realized that the authors were doing quite well – and their fans often didn’t bother to leave feedback (how many ways can you say ‘I liked this book’?), but their detractors did, so the ratings tended to be skewed.

These authors long ago learned to ignore the critics, write the next book, and feel confident it would be bought in reasonable numbers.

I have not. Yet.

Stubborn I have been since a small child

I was the kind of ugly duckling people hesitate to pick on. Unkindnesses were not uncommon, but outright bullying requires the consent of the bullied – or their physical inability to resist – to work properly, and that was not me.

I had a family to back me up (“our ugly duckling, right or wrong”), who loved me and still do (thanks, guys!). I didn’t have any of the easy pickings, gayness or excessive weight (though I was on the stocky side) or scandals in the family or dimness. It wasn’t much fun to pick on me, if I even noticed it, so I was mostly left to my own devices.

And I didn’t CARE about other people’s opinions (except my parents’). We felt we had the best possible parents compared to all our friends, so it was a serious failing not to be up to their standards, and we tried very hard

Why mention this unlovely trait? Because it affects not my writing directly (I’ve pretty much settled into a voice and style, at least for this set of books), but my mood.

Making my mood conscious, and then removing it if inconvenient, takes up some of my daily time. Sometimes the process results in reflection, and you get a post.

I’m trying to improve both sales and reviews/ratings

The plan was to have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY selling quietly at some rate in the background, with borrows from Kindle Unlimited a separate small stream of income, justifying the writing.

I tell myself that writing is a business, not a hobby. One may become a talented amateur painter, for example, but no hobbyist-painter spends every possible moment painting.

The difference is both the intention – and the time and effort put into the endeavor.

Which has led to me spending time looking at the means for promotion available to those pesky self-publishing indies.

That’s where the niche part comes in.

If you write, say, Science Fiction or Category Romance, you have a lot of company (writers) and a defined (and large) audience of potential readers. Within these genres, there is a sense of camaraderie, and a sharing – on the indie side – of information about which means of promotion work, and how to go about them.

What works for INDIE GENRE promotion?

I am well read on the methods – indie writers are very generous with information.

Nothing is a slam dunk, of course – people who think you just throw a book together, repeat at three-month intervals, set the first book to permafree or 0.99 and pay off your mortgage, find the field harder to plow than they expected. There is work, and savvy, and exploiting the available avenues, and marketing, and spending your money wisely on ads and promotions.

But a new indie writer – or one tiring of the traditional dance and swallowing her distaste and trying self-publishing (usually because traditional publishing has huge problems for genre writers, including skimpy advances (if you get one at all) and very low royalties) – finds many ideas to try.

Follow the methods. Write your books. LEARN. Cross-promote. And if you’re energetic and confident and prolific – and can write worth a damn, especially within genre conventions – you can make a career.

Stealing fire from the indie gods

I’ve been reading all this since I started reading the self-publishing blogs in 2012, and educating myself to the business side of writing.

And every thing I read was cause for reflection – and me looking for the other side to the idea, the one that might work for me. Because I knew, from the very beginning, I was different.

I doubt traditional publishers would take a chance – that pesky heroine, and some of those ideas – not at all ‘more of the same.’

And I also knew that ‘prolific, ‘energetic,’ and ‘genre conventions’ were not going to work for me.

I have been welcomed in many places, even as I bring in my weird differences, simply because most indies are welcoming people. Their success doesn’t depend on keeping me out of a traditional publisher’s catalog slot. We are competitors in only a very general sense.

The one I am trying now has to do with Amazon ads; I’ve joined a FaceBook group whose purpose is to learn how to master Amazon ads in two ways:

making you comfortable with advertising on Amazon – and teaching you how to create the ads, and

fine-tuning the ads to find a comfortable rate of return for your advertising dollar.

The people I share this group with are mostly indie (a few hybrid authors do traditional + self-publishing). And most of them are very firmly genre writers: thrillers and cozy mysteries, paranormal Romance and Christian Romance, SF and fantasy.

I haven’t found many ‘literary’ or mainstream or general fiction authors identifying themselves as such. So I’ve been mostly alone in my plan to see what I can adapt from genre techniques of marketing, reading every post with the intention of turning it on its head if that would help ME.


I have a very specific set of techniques in my plan.

It may not be doable.

It may be doable, but so expensive that it’s not worth it.

I won’t share unless it works, because the techniques are also very frangible and friable and delicate. I can see them working – and then not working if even a relatively small group people decide to try to follow suit.

What I’m NOT happy with

This is the hard part, and I’ll illustrate it with two bits of feedback I received in the past two days:


Readers’ Comments
‘Interesting in many ways. The characters have considerable
depth and the plot is interesting. It could do with a good
editor in parts to ‘cut it down’ a little. Also, parts of it
are difficult to follow. I had to re-read the first chapter to
understand all of it. But, if you are prepared to work, you
will find here a fascinating story populated with strong
characters. Just a note, the cover’s a bit flat.’ Male reader,
aged 42
‘Powerful characters – yes. Interesting plot with plenty of
twists – yes. Well described setting – yes. Very complicated
and a hard-to-follow writing style – yes. This probably needs
an editor with a red pen to cut it. If that happened, it would
be a top-notch EPIC!’ Female reader, aged 56

‘A bit too ‘wordy’ for me. If you read it, have a dictionary
handy. I’m guessing this was a huge job to write. And for
this, I congratulate the author. Her knowledge of her settings
and characters is stunning, and the illness of the author is
well-handled and adds a further element of interest. I enjoyed
it, though it was a rather exhausting read.’ Female reader,
aged 59

‘The stream of consciousness is interesting but killed the
book for me. It just over complicated the story and made it
difficult to follow. Personally, I would encourage the author
to cut the length of this story considerably. The characters
are interesting and well-handled, the plot is powerful with an
excellent ending. It just needs editing a little.’ Indie
Publisher, aged 51

I.e., Change your writing – it’s too long and too hard for me.


Thank God for positive!

I have long finished your book and loved it. Loved it loved it loved it. It was entirely to my taste. “The Essex Serpent” had this kind of pacing as well, and I found myself absorbed in the balance between internal monologues and external events. I ended the book wanting to know what happens to Kary, Andrew and Bianca next.

I.e., I like it the way it is and want more.

Why point out only some people like it?

Because when you write to a niche, but there is a much larger pool of readers who won’t like what you write, or won’t quite ‘get it,’ you have to be very careful NOT to attract those other readers – who will then leave the exact kind of reviews you don’t want to be associated with, lower your rating, and attempt, in their kindness, to ‘fix’ you and your writing.

And when the readers you DO want to attract by your ads are firmly convinced that no indie author can write the right kind of novels, because if they could, these writers would go through the traditional gatekeepers and be blessed and vetted, the least thing can scare those readers off from even trying to read your book.

Ergo, fraught. Writing in such a niche. And even more fraught, is trying to find a way to do it indie anyway, including advertising. And still find readers.

The topic is esoteric to the point of madness

For which I apologize.

But I had to find SOMETHING to do with the feedback which showed up in my inbox, and with the well-intentioned comments (change your price, get a professional to edit your work, get a professional to design your cover, make it shorter, CHANGE your book) which has been my fare lately.

So I share it with my friends.

You’re already used to me.

Depression: unavoidable consequence of life-altering surgery?

Bird flying into the sunset. Text: How far away are the Grey Havens. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt


I don’t want to have to write this post, but I’m coming to the conclusion that this is the final ‘tail’ I have to deal with.

I don’t want to believe that it may be a consequences of having my life saved that, for a year, the last drug I’m on may dog my steps, make me wish I hadn’t made it, drive me to a different place where it isn’t worth getting up in the morning.

Maybe I’m writing this prematurely, but even if the whole experience disappeared tomorrow into a (tiny) burst of continuing ability to write, it HAS existed. It is REAL. And I’m probably not alone in having it.

Why would a platelet control drug (Effient) cause problems?

Because one of its side effects is ‘low energy.’

I thought getting the drugs with the major side effects out of my system would take me back to where I used to exist, in my low-energy CFS state that allowed a couple of hours a day for writing fiction – my ‘good time’ – if I did everything right: got enough sleep, took my naps, didn’t eat until after writing (to avoid diverting blood to digestion I needed for thinking), didn’t eat carbs, didn’t leave the house much, kept the adrenaline low by suppressing most of the effect of emotions…

What this actually means is that I need to achieve an energy level somewhat above bare-existence levels for part of the day, and don’t have much of a margin of safety. Many days, especially if something else HAD to be done, by ME, I had to use it for something other than writing fiction. But most of the time – maybe 5 or 6 out of 7 days – I could count on that piece of my old mind hanging around for a bit.

And now I’m down to 1 or 2 out of 7 – and it’s simply not enough to keep me from getting depressed – and then having to use some of those days and some of that energy to drag myself out of the pit of despair.

How do you handle depression?

A long time ago, when I first got CFS, there was some evidence that taking small quantities – about 10% of a regular dose – of antidepressants, and my doctor at the time tried four or five of them over a period when I was desperate to get some of myself back.

And the reaction to medication that still is with me – overreacting to small amounts, and usually not being able to take enough to reach a therapeutic dose – happened back then. None of the drugs I tried had any positive effect; all had side effects which made me beg off them; and on none of them did I reach even that 10% dose before this happened.

It seems to be my version (I’m far from alone in this among people with CFS (PWCs)) of this d**ned disease.

But because of this experiment, I won’t try anti-depressant medications again.

Long ago I learned Cognitive Behavior Therapy – from Feeling Good: the new mood therapy, Dr. David Burns. It takes time, involves, for me, a fair amount of writing it all down and dealing with it on paper.

But it has the advantages of:

  • no drugs for my system to deal with
  • no side effects
  • available in the middle of the night – or any other time and place
  • completely under my control
  • always works for me (eventually)
  • doesn’t need a therapist, a doctor, or a pharmacist – or a prescription
  • no cost

I can’t tell you the number of times in almost three decades that I’ve realized I’m getting overwhelmed, started writing about it, figured out what the important threads were, and worked my way out of depression that was making my life uninhabitable.

I don’t push this on other people – many other people can handle a drug just fine, don’t get many side effects, and just need their brain chemistry adjusted; or, if in a major depression, need far more help than they can manage this way. But it’s what I’ve used all these years, and it works for me – if I put the time and effort in. Which I always end up doing because I can, I don’t like inflicting this self on my family, and depression ruins what life I have left – and bring my fiction to a standstill.

Back to the life-altering part

It is characteristic of many events in life that change you from one person into another – love, marriage, a child, getting kicked out of school, divorce, joining the military, losing a parent… – to make you reassess what is important to you, what you are doing with your life.

Having stents installed, and finding out you might have been heading for a heart attack otherwise, changes you. It is a curious ‘surgery’ because there is little in the way of cutting and healing from that (except in my unlucky case, where I blew a gasket in the hole in my femoral artery – I still have the damage from that).

But that almost doesn’t matter, because I KNOW I am now another person/body. For one, I am now a ‘cardiac patient,’ with the implications of doctor supervision, meds, visits to the cardiologist, tests, and whatever changes these things may force on me.

And of course there is the mortality thing – events remind you time is limited.

It helps to focus you.

But I had ONE thing left to me, writing fiction, and I am dealing with not being able to do that ONE thing.

The rest of life doesn’t conveniently take up the slack

In addition to writing book 2 in the Pride’s Children trilogy, I am trying to market book 1. This has slowed to a standstill – I am hand-selling a couple of copies a month at best. It takes me a lot of time and many emails to get someone to accept a free copy for a possible review – which I’m happy to do when I can, but is happening very rarely lately.

I’m running Amazon ads (thanks to Brian Meeks for getting me started where I couldn’t figure out the basics); so far, since Feb. 4, Amazon tells me I’ve spent $30 on ads, and have sold one copy (though I think they may be responsible for a few more, but possibly not directly from someone clicking on my ads, which is what they track). I can leave that running in the background, and hope for a groundswell in the future.

I am also trying to finish putting up a short story prequel, Too Late, so that those who don’t want to read it here on the free fiction tab – or who prefer their own copy managed by Amazon for their Kindle – can have it for 0.99. Or people who get to my Author Page can select a low-cost alternative to the outrageous-for-an-indie price of $8.99 for an ebook (compare to big publisher prices which are higher) to read to see if I can write. Or even so I can make it available for download to anyone joining my newsletter or following my blog.

And of course there is cardiac rehab – and its attendant paperwork. I don’t even want to tell you how much time I’ve wasted on that, and I haven’t even started yet. When it happens, in a few weeks, it will also sap my energy by making me leave the house two more times per week, and expend energy I don’t have. The hope is that it might also eventually help. Not in the conventional way: I can’t do aerobic exercise, so there is no ability to increase aerobic capacity; the best I can hope for is a tiny increase in ‘fitness’ over time that might offset the decline I’ve been in.

If nothing else, it will shut the cardiologist up that I’ve tried it.

I’m not blogging as much – have nothing interesting to say other than to relate my experiences with the medical system as I’m doing – another indication of low energy.

And I’ve started going for the heart-rate limited slow walks which I’ve been trying to get to for ages (and may have been made more difficult by that blockage) – the only way I know for a PWC to increase fitness on her own. That is, I got ONE walk in – to the middle of the next block and back – when it was 66 degrees the other day. We’re back in the 30s, so I can’t do that for a while again, but will try to find the energy in the hopes that there might be eventual improvement in something, anything.

I still have to finish things such as my mom and dad’s tax returns (he died in Aug. 2014, I got the paperwork to do the next year, and the IRS has stymied my every effort so far to get the right information by… well, you don’t need the horrible details; sufficient to say it’s not done yet).

We want to get this house on the market – and move so husband doesn’t have to deal with me by himself in the future. And because it is so much work just to maintain a home and yard, and I’m not capable of helping any more.

Moving will be its own can of worms – as will finding the right place.

So, more stuff on the to do list – and less to do it with

I’m not surprised to be depressed under these conditions, but I’m not managing to get control of it, because the one reliable thing I had that helped – writing fiction – isn’t coming back fast enough.

I should be happy to be alive. I am grateful, but not happy. All it does right now is remind me how I’ve lost another huge chunk of me, and I can’t figure out how to get that miserable chunk back.

I don’t think most people realize how tiny my life is already. I haven’t had the energy to go to church, or to sing at the Princeton chapel, or to go to the Folk Music Society sings and concerts – the few things that used to get me out of the house.

I have an assistant – so she has been getting some of the backlog things, and the recurring things, done – we need to move to the dejunking, final fixing, getting rid of, downsizing and losing even more things from your life to fit a smaller place. I barely manage to work with her by giving her instructions when she comes. I’m no help any more lately.

There is such a thing as too much loss.

I’m perilously close to that point.


Spent today pitching a movie never to be filmed


It counts as research.

I’m reading – rereading in many cases – Blake Snyder’s three Save The Cat books.

These are well-known screenwriter tools, as is the Dramatica I use for plotting and character development.

The many similarities between the different forms of presenting a story allow significant crossover: a story is a story is a story. Each form is also very different from the others, because once they go out into the real world, a book and a play and a movie script are implemented differently.

But plotting Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD was not the reason for the reading. Plotting is all finished, and in the scene I’m working on right now, a movie is being pitched to one of our actors. I’m using the device of a pitch meeting to get all the information needed to understand this particular movie into the story in the most efficient way – without seeming like an info-dump.

Isn’t writing a whole movie a bit much as backdrop for a novel?

Of course it is, but you know me: if it’s going to be in the plot (and, with actors, you’re going to have movies in the plot), and I can give it verisimilitude (the appearance of actually being real), I can make you believe the one or two not real points in the rest of the plot.

Machiavellian, you say? Why, thank you.

But I’m not the only one to do things like this – heck, people in fantasies invent whole worlds and religions and ecosystems.

What attracted me to the idea is the fact that Snyder says, of the pitch:

“Poster. Logline. Simple story spine. Eager and inspired telling of the tale. Ten minutes, tops. That’s the pitch.” (p. 123, Save The Cat Strikes Back)

Which fits perfectly into my scheme to sketch out enough of this particular movie to last for the first half of NETHERWORLD, without taking up that much space in the book. After all, I’m writing a novel, not a movie.

I can trust that most people who read have seen plenty of movies, and, given the highpoints, will see a movie where there is only a ghost of one. My readers want to see people working (I hope), but they have no interest AT ALL in seeing the enormous amount of work and time it takes to produce a major motion picture.

Blake also says:

“Regardless of how you organize your story, once you’ve finished your pitch… shut up! The first one to talk loses. If you give into temptation and can’t help spewing more stuff after you’re said ‘The End,’ you are indulging in a pitching no-no called Selling Past the Close.

Shutting up

I’m going to follow his advice. What do you think of it?

*** Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is on sale for 0.99 until 1/30/17***

Thanks to Quozio for easy quote images.

My morning walk through my Internet village

A pink-soled sneaker being tied onto a foot; Words: Every morning I take a walk and stop to say hi to all my Internet friendsSURFING? OR FREEDOM FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T GET OUT MUCH?

What other people do so easily, would be impossible for me: I’m technically retired now, though the last 25 years of my working life were spent on disability, and I can’t just ‘go out for a walk’ like healthy people my age.

I’ve recently gotten to the place where I can walk more, but it isn’t easy or fast or convenient or unassisted, not like when I used to go out the front door, turn left (or right if I wanted to add an extra bit around the cul-de-sac), and just go, walk wherever I happened to decide, and come back when I’d had some exercise.

But I do something similar when I get on my computer in the mornings, and, while I’m waiting for the morning’s caffeine to decide if there are going to be working brain cells today, I walk around my Internet neighborhood – the sites on my navigation bar – and see what’s up.

Procrastinate first, except for the rare days when there’s something my limited brain can do in the writing department before it is warmed up. I’ve tried – nothing seems to work – so I’ve decided to enjoy my morning walk, do it as efficiently as possible, and not fret about the time wasted/spent. Angst is not helpful, so I don’t bother any more. And I almost never add any new stops to the navigation bar.

HOME COMPUTER: Email first – well Duh!

I check email several times a day, and make sure to deal with what I can asap, as friends write, and several newsletters show up with something new, and often a quick response saves much time and effort later.

Plus, as you can tell, I like to write back. Gets the brain moving and the fingers wiggling.

Sometimes I find responses I needed from missives I’ve sent out to friends or other sources, and know I’ll be able to move something forward.

Occasionally, I have to do something, such as go to the basement and read the numbers on the meter for the solar power system, near the first of the month. They can’t do their paperwork until they have my input, so it gets a high priority.

FIREFOX: First stop on the Internet are my own blogs

I refresh the page, and the thingy in the top right hand corner will tell me if I have visitors, and if they’ve commented. New comments on the blog always get first priority

First stop after 9AM – TPV; if much earlier, do this later

I stop by The Passive Voice for the morning publishing news (and several times more during the day because Passive Guy puts up five or six posts every day). It’s like a visit to a cafe where you get good commentary, and rude people aren’t tolerated. We mostly stay on topics related to publishing and books and such, but David has an interesting mind, and gets stuff from lots of places.

Extra points if posts have a comment at the bottom from our gracious, handsome, and intelligent host – his wry humor and delicate satire are things for joy.

People send him stuff. He is a good host, posting an excerpt – and a link to the original. He is careful not to ruin the original post, while giving you enough to decide if you’re going to visit it.

On most blogs, comments need supervision, and are often not worth the time to scan them; if you don’t read the comments on TPV – and subscribe so you get the late ones – you’re going to miss things. Useful things.

WU – ‘about the craft and business of fiction’

I stop by Writer Unboxed most mornings, at least to get a quick look at the topic and the post’s byline. I skip Flog a Pro – kind of hate the idea of people feeling they can freely trash work they couldn’t produce; mean-spirited and negative some times. Not me. Other bylines or topics I know I won’t respond to from the title or a bit of the post, I skip; otherwise, I read the post.

I consider whether there’s anything I’d like to add to the discussion (there’s usually a question or two at the end of the post as a prompt); I leave my little addition to world literature or my (usually different) take on the subject, read those of other people I recognize, and maybe pop back later; I like posters who bother to come back and join the discussion better, but not all of them have/take the time.

FB – for friends and support groups

You get out what you put in on FB. You are a contributing member of a community – or not. Since one group is a support groups for people I know have extremely limited energy, that group’s members get a pass – some can only afford to post when desperate, and we all respect that.

My group of friends is small, and I don’t sell or proselytize much – that’s not what friends are for. My blog posts automatically on my personal FB page; if there’s anything that the groups might find useful, I cross-post them on the group page. A little goes a long way.

I check out any friend requests – most are obvious spammers – easy to tell (and block permanently) if I take a peek at their page. I’ve even reached the point of checking with the ‘friends in common’ if a friend request is odd and unexpected in any way.

I have no author page – yet. It would be one more thing to maintain – maybe if it seems a good idea later.

CHROME: GR and my British friends

A daily stop, maybe several times, is a nice bunch of people on Goodreads in the UK Kindle group who have made me feel welcome. I’ve read enough British authors in my life to practically qualify on that alone. Occasionally there will be something in my inbox from a GR friend.

I usually save those for later response, but almost always read them right away.

The notifications function provides a quick way to keep track of the threads I comment on or read.

The comics – and Dear Abby

And I’ve had my bit of entertainment for the day; I have them set up for easy refreshing on the Chrome browser, and can update and read and pass on good ones to friends with a few minutes’ effort. Doesn’t that happen to you? A comic just makes you have to send it to a particular friend?

Extra points when the friend later emails back that it was especially appropriate or welcome.

The daily brain puzzles – measuring brain speed (if any)

Usually the last stop on my little trek, I set up a few hard sudokus, maybe do one or two, to gauge whether my brain is starting to work the way I need it to work for writing fiction.

I’m looking for a completion time below seven minutes; and I monitor, with a partial brain, how the math processing is going. I can literally feel it when I’m not tracking – I can still do them most of the time, but they feel like slogging through mud, and take forever. The CFS brain fog is clearly at work here; sometimes it won’t go away. I can work a bit, but it almost isn’t worth it without a brain. I’ll get ten minutes worth of writing done in three hours.

Yahoo news

If it makes it to Yahoo, I take a quick scan; other news items will show up in paper (The Economist and other magazines), or someone will boost them on FB, so this is really a desperate measure to find SOMETHING to read before I have to (want to/have to) get to work.

The end of the walk – home again, home again, higglety pen

After a final quick check of the emails, and possibly TPV depending on timing, and a superquick and usually pointless visit to Amazon’s pages that show book sales, I grit my metaphorical teeth and start up Freedom or Anti-Social to block the internet for my available writing time.

Then have chocolate protein shake, and take First Nap (sounds counterproductive, but isn’t – search for ‘mental dialysis’ posts), and when I wake up again and come back to the computer, the writing is sitting there ready to go, I’ve checked out that the whole world is okay until I have time to look again, and I don’t even think about all my friends for hours.

Turning into a routine makes it much more efficient than it used to be.

Keeps me sane.

And productive.

And connected – the most important part of all. My internet friends are REAL friends. I just maybe don’t really know how tall they are.

Thanks to Stencil for images I can create or edit.

Do you have a morning computer routine?

Rhetorical questions in fiction: good or bad?

Healthy dessert with grapes, cherries, and granola, with the words: What do you think? 3 question marks. Good? Bad? and Alicia Butcher EhrhardtSHOULD YOU USE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS WHEN WRITING FICTION?

This was a shocker.

When working on Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD, I came across a note:

Sue Coletta: don’t use rhetorical questions. They take you out of the story.

Like all other blanket prohibitions, this one is wrong.

But it sounded good. And I had stored it away for a reason, specifically to make sure I didn’t do something that took my readers out of my stories.

How many rhetorical questions are too many? One? Two? In how much ‘scene’?

I had just finished writing the first scene for one of my main characters, and it seemed a good time to 1) check to see if I had many rhetorical questions in it, and 2) to go back to Book 1, Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, and see if I had that problem there, too.

I startled myself: this main character, Kary, had TWENTY-SEVEN rhetorical questions in her new scene. Wow. Certainly too many.

So I check a different main character, Andrew, and found he had a couple. (My scenes have 800-1500 words in them, typically.)

I went back to Book 1 and found Kary had another huge number of rhetoricals in her last scene. Andrew, only had a few in his last scene in Book 1.

And I realized how different I had made these characters in how they talk to themselves – and I didn’t even know I’d done it!

One of my ‘go to’s on my Left Brain righT method is to ‘Become the character’ before attempting to write the character’s next scene. It includes going back and reading that character’s last previous scene, and possibly a few before that, to get into the character’s voice and mannerisms.

This turned out to have a vastly different style in something I prized, the interior life of the character – and I didn’t even do it on purpose.

Characters are different – duh!

I’m not sure whether I’m channeling or inventing these characters.

But it spooked me.

I don’t know when this happened, and yet there it was.

I just knew they were different, and I knew how they were different (from spending years living with them in my head and in my notes), and the characterizations came out by themselves.

I like things like this in my writing, but I always thought I did them deliberately.

About those twenty-seven rhetorical questions that Kary had? I couldn’t change a one.


Sue’s admonition – Don’t ask rhetorical questions because they take you out of the story – needs to be changed.

To: ‘Don’t ask the READER rhetorical questions.’

Because it takes the READER out of the story.

It’s fine for the CHARACTER to ask herself questions without answers. How often? As often as she would do it if she were real.

Is she?


What is real?

Do you ask rhetorical questions?

Thanks, Sue. You made me think – and that’s always, uh, interesting.

If you find any of this intriguing, and/or want to see rhetorical questions in action, you can find Kary’s scenes in Pride’s Children at Amazon US, written by the same person who writes these posts. Note: the link leads to the reviews; the product page link is in the right sidebar. Don’t you like to see what other people think about a writer before considering buying?

PS I’m depending on word of mouth right now, as I can either write, it turns out, or market. Or you could go out and find a cure for CFS, so I can do both (might be a wee bit harder).

5W+H newspaper method gels writing beat


Every once in a while I get myself into a jam, and, though I think I have every thing I need in writing a piece of a scene, it fails to gel, I feel frustrated and tied in knots, and I keep going at it from all directions, starting and restarting the section without getting to a coherent flow.

I tried an old newspaper trick this morning.

Newspaper reporters have to make it fast and easy for a reader to engage with a story, get the basic information into the reader before she does the pre-computer equivalent of clicking on something else to read: giving up on one story, and finding either another one to read or moving on to the rest of her day.

Your English teacher probably taught you this, too (I didn’t have an English teacher, so maybe that’s why I came to this in a roundabout way).

It’s called 5W + H.

And it means, you recall, supplying the six pieces of information the reader needs to lodge the basics of the story in his head:

  • Who – people present or necessary to the story
  • Where – setting
  • What – is going on (the plot)
  • When – time, time frame, sequence
  • Why – are you telling this story? Why did they do it?
  • How – the plot reaches resolution, and the information is transferred securely into the reader’s head.

The order doesn’t really matter as long as, after a very brief period, the reader has enough to interest him to keep reading the details.

TV news people usually drag this out as long as possible, especially if there have been little advance hints all day (news at 11) – and now they have to supply the goods. They tease you along with the less interesting bits, finally supplying the actual meat of the story (which is often anticlimactic – I waited up past my bedtime for this?) after as many commercials as possible, when they could have ‘informed’ you the first time you heard about the story.

Writers can’t afford this – the reader won’t stick around.

For the writer of FICTION

The problem for a writer is when the dramatic pieces want to come first – the startling headline, the shocking news – but they won’t make sense without the more informational bits.

Readers have an empty gray-goo area in the brain, a formless void, when they approach a new story, and it has to be filled in quickly.

If you don’t reveal that this shocking dog’s death occurred, not in their neighborhood, but in Manila, they will 1) assume it’s local, and 2) be annoyed at you when they find out it’s not.

So the system is: shocker, fill in the absolutely necessary stuff to orient the reader, more shocking details.

But it’s not the reader’s job to avoid the confusion: it’s the writer’s job.

LEAD with the emotions

Life is boring – readers need vicarious experiences.

We are, as Lisa Kron says in Wired for Story, primed to absorb new information that we need.

Need is critical: grab readers by the emotions, and supply the details as quickly and efficiently as possible, and they will follow.

What I figured out was that I’m relatively good at doing these steps in a normal scene – hook, set the scene, supply story, leave cliffhanger of at least one question so the reader will read the next scene.

But not when I get tricky – for good story reasons – and try to cram a lot into the piece of scene.

Then I need to stop, make sure the 5W+H are provided asap, and choreograph the presentation of story information in the most effective way I can. Deliberately. As if I had a news desk editor with a lot of experience to satisfy, and the pickiest readers.

The contract with the reader

Lead the reader down the garden path, as it were, until we find the dead body.

If you can do this in a tricky case, it improves the facility for doing it in normal situations.

It comes down, after you’ve identified the 5W + H:


Just as soon as the reader starts to think all this is a bit too much, it GELS.

Because the critical information is all there.

And the reader is no longer confused, the dreaded info drop has been avoided, and the story is firmly lodged (one hopes) back in the reader’s brain.

The analytical side of my brain is very pleased with itself – the artistic side is chomping at the bit.

The details? You’ll eventually have to read Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD to grade my performance, but I can tell you the bit is the beginning of the second scene; it involves four people and four different settings; there is a tiny necessary shift in the timeline; the formatting helps (Lord knows how I’m going to do this in the audiobook version); and, if I do it right, it will bring you right back into the story with very little ’splainin’ (think Ricky Ricardo and I Love Lucy: “Lucy! You got some ’splainin’ to do!”).

Trust me, the other way was long and boring.

What say you? I love discussion.

Thanks to Stencil for the ability to create images for posts.