Tag Archives: writing

Making things worse to make them better

Jetty going out over a lake with the moon in the night sky. Text: There's always dark before the light. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

SOMETIMES YOU HAVE TO BREAK THE MOLD

to get to a bigger, better place.

The mold is a comfortable place.

Okay, not so comfortable: it has flaws. You are just used to the flaws.

Until the day when the flaws add up to something so large it can’t be improved.

Only destroyed.

I’m trying to get settled in the new, larger mold.

It’s just taking a lot more work, and a lot more time, than I told myself before the move (if you don’t do that, minimize the cost of the change, you can never get unstuck from the mold).

If you focus too hard on the cost of change, you don’t change. You CAN’T change.

Because change is very expensive, and not just in money.

I’m impatient.

Everyone tells me to ‘give it time,’ and tells me how long it was before they were settled in our new community, before they had unpacked all their boxes, before they knew enough people, before they reconstructed their new life.

But after the change, the invoice shows up and demands to be paid.

As the pain of the move diminishes, and becomes, like all memories, a series of amusing vignettes you recount at the dinner table to people you hope will become new friends, and whom you are now entertaining so they will know you’re not just a complainer (deadly) or a bore (deadly), the pain of the new become more evident: you are not there yet.

For me, it has been the amount of time I am still not writing new fiction.

I’ve spent a decent proportion of time with the internet blocked off, NOT writing new fiction.

Yet.

I sure hope it’s ‘yet.’

You see, I also moved to improve the body.

I have started the PT I so desperately wanted, and which was one of the main reasons for coming to this particular place. PT is downstairs. An elevator ride and a couple of corridors worth of distance.

And next to the pool, so I can just pop into the warm water afterward, and then take a nice shower, and then…

Go back to the temporary home and find myself completely ragged out for the day.

And the next day the sacroiliac joint has given me a day of intense deep aching. So I do the exercises for that…

It’s necessary. Now is the best time. And it has plopped the next barrier to writing right in front of me.

People recommend patience

and not being too hard on myself.

And not expecting too much, possibly even now, since we’re beginning the process of working with Facilities to fix our permanent abode in Independent Living from being gutted, to having a place for everything and everything in its place, a state we are NOT achieving here (doesn’t feel worth the work when you’re going to have to do it all again soon).

But they don’t have the itchy feeling of how much of my identity is tied up in being a writer – and actually writing.

So many accomplished folk here, with long resumes of happy productive lives, whether involved in work for pay or in bringing up happy and successful children, and it serves to emphasize the many things I could not do due to illness, the may experiences I will now never have.

I didn’t expect that part.

Many of them are still doing the wonderful trips and community service and voter registration and visiting schools…

The ones who are past that are often quite a bit older.

And even the ones who are now disabled who are living here often have not been that way for long.

Only now I meet more people than in my previous isolated state

and have had, metaphorically speaking (and without any ill intent on their part – this all comes out in conversations), my nose rubbed in it.

I used to be better at ignoring the fact that I was ill and isolated, and the rest of the world had lives. Problems, yes, but lives.

By a determined cheerfulness in my own life, so that I did not alienate those I still knew, I kept the worst of it under wraps most of the time. It gets very boring to listen to complaining, however justified. I preferred to spend my time with my husband, far-flung kids, and small coterie of friends enjoying their presence and company when I had it.

I made ignorance – avoidance – my bliss.

And I wrote. Things other people can’t. Don’t. Don’t even want to. But which make me unique.

And clamped down on envy as unproductive.

I’m confronting all this a third time.

Fourth? Fifth? All in a bunch, everything repressed comes back to be dealt with in a new stage of life.

I really hope it’s the last time. But it can’t be.

It gets boring, even to me.

The light will return. Proof of that is that I keep trying. If I’d stopped trying, I’d really worry.

This may be one of those raw adjustment times you put behind you once things are to a new normal. But it’s daunting to think it may total a year by the time we’re in the ‘forever home,’ and I get back to really working.

Another very good sign is that I’m aware of it. I’m not happy about the uncertain period, but I still crave writing something coherent, and even more, writing something I’m satisfied with. I know I’m not where I want to be, and that the steps we’re taking should, with a bit more of that patience stuff, put me in a better writing place.

Life moves on, inexorably

I’d just like to think that the effort for change results in a better working environment, and is a net gain.

Ask me in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, this is a recording of the current state of mind.

I have gone back into my own posts, that now number well over 500, to find things I almost don’t remember writing – and I only started blogging in 2012!

Nothing very new yet

except that I realized how sparse even the blogging has gotten, and feel compelled (by me, not my lovely readers and commenters) to put out at least an update+what I’ve been thinking post every once in a while, until I have more substantive ‘content.’

And, looked at in hindsight, there has been an awfully large amount of change survived.

Please pray for rain for California, and no rain in some other places – that has been, after the elections, another huge concern: we are right in the plume of the Camp Fire, and yesterday were in the ‘hazardous’ category. Worrying about the firefighters, and all those who have lost lives, family, and homes. And wildlife. And what happens after.

And, as usual, not being able to do a darned thing.

Be well. Write when you have a moment.


 

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When you’re heard, good may happen

Winding road into a sunset with a tree on a hill. Text: One step at a time this road leads somewhere. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

SMALL STEPS LEAD TO MILESTONES

There’s no point moving cross-county if you’re not going to improve some things in your life.

Improving the physical plant happened today in two ways.

We have what should be our permanent home in Independent Living.

Moving in is in the future some time, because they are changing a whole lot of ‘features’ into what is their new ‘standard’ for these units. So this unit, which has not had a lot of things done to it since it was built in 2000, will have just about everything changed.

I saved the basic list from an email I wrote a friend in Australia:

  • They’re going to completely re-do the place, as it hasn’t been done for many years.
  • We will get new kitchen cabinets and appliances. New counter tops.
  • They will install our washer and dryer.
  • New flooring throughout. We get to choose what, and colors.
  • Crown molding lighting – and ceiling fans (they move the air-conditioned air and heat noiselessly on the lowest setting, so the heat-exchanger doesn’t come on as often – quieter).
  • The bathrooms will be done – completely new shower and counter and sink in the master bath, and I want an accessible shower in the other one, which will be mine! All mine! for the first time in my life. I HATE sharing bathrooms.
  • All the window treatments.

Plus whatever we want (there may be some walls moved, doors covered, etc., depending on where Bill’s office area ends up).

So quite a lot, and apparently the contractors aren’t fast, and the holidays slow things down even further.

It is a bit sad in there right now – and their plan is to bring things up to the current standard every time a unit is occupied by new tenants.

We may not be in before Christmas, but a girl can hope.

Thing is, the sooner we make OUR choices, the sooner the whole thing gets underway. So I will be nagging. Or whatever it is called when you’re the squeaky wheel.

We will have to pay for any serious upgrades; I will see what I can get due to being disabled – there are strong laws in California about accessibility. [Note: not much that applies to personal spaces such as apartments; plenty for public buildings.]

Meanwhile, I’m also upgrading me

I had my intake visit with the lovely Heather from the physical therapy department.

She’s what got me thinking on the topic of being heard, because, for the first time in a long time, I’m taking charge of the improvements for the body I inhabit.

I like the system here with our new U. California-Davis Medical Center (UCDMC) doctors. They have the first patient portal I have ever used which has me raving about setting it up and using it.

Just think: if you send an email to your doctor, he or she will respond within 48 hours. Unprecedented in New Jersey. And the portals back there were the most awful things to set up and messages through.

Here they put up your test results as soon as they’re available, and just casually mention your doctor hasn’t seen them yet. In NJ, the law said you could have them, but it was like extracting teeth from small fowl, and somehow they were never available soon, and never before the doctor had seen them: bad technology trumped obeying the law.

So, back on topic, I requested a referral to PT here in this facility, and the doctor not only did it without making me go visit him, but it was handled internally AS IF I WERE THE PAYING CLIENT. They called when they received it, made an appointment immediately, and I just popped on down.

Heather listened, and did what many places don’t seem to bother with: she asked my opinion, and my goals, and then very carefully assessed where I am. Then she proceeded to give me exactly what I asked for: exercises to strengthen the lower back to support walking. She listened about the ME/CFS, and how much energy I don’t have, and took that all into account. She will see me once a week, so I can do things at my own pace – something no other PT place has ever ‘allowed’ (they all wanted, and said insurance would only pay for, a 3 times a week schedule).

Delving into the devil in the details

I don’t know if there will be snags in the PT. I’m pretty sure the remodeling may have some, as we were given no lists and no budget, and some things, when I asked the same question several times, would finally yield a different answer.

We’ll see for both, but this is why we came here: to have options.

PT is downstairs. A couple of elevators and corridors away. The amount of energy that will save me, which can be used to do the PT, is prodigious. I can actually see doing enough of this to find out how much my walking can be improved.

Surgery is not on my list, especially not now, as I haven’t found an orthopedic surgeon who actually listened, and who could promise more than maybe. Also, it takes us ME/CFS types a LONG time to heal, 6-12 months after the surgery which has led to me not walking, back in 2007. It is too long to do again unless I have firm promises, and the logical thing to do is PROPER PT, not PT for little old ladies as I had before.

Also, I made sure we picked the UCDMC system as the only local one with a teaching hospital (though, alas, it is in Sacramento, not Davis – huh? – but it’s not that far), and this place does post-surgical rehab right here, and they apparently spoil you in Skilled Nursing while you recover. So, if the PT doesn’t do what I need, I’ll see what else there is – but from the point of actually doing everything I can (I’m one of the young ‘uns here) that should be done FIRST (the PT in New Jersey before the spinal fusion was a joke).

Teaching hospitals usually have the best facilities, and I’m hoping, orthopedists.

The PT people here are set up for old people! They work with our kinds of problems. Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the channel which has your spine in it) is quite common, as are walking problems. I’ve seen a lot of things in other people, and talked to many, here.

Maybe they have solutions.

So, not blogging much

Because this reconnecting to things we dumped in New Jersey is, quite frankly, boring. We did it deliberately, and it is taking forever to re-build a life, but everyone who has moved further than ten miles knows how it is.

Doing everything we should. Trying all the activities and swimming in the outdoor pool. Still have no car – and still haven’t jumped through the last hoop (getting a CA driver’s license) because there has been no time (and the studying first is a good idea).

But finally the two-bedroom is on the horizon. And we can actually finish unpacking, and hang the paintings, and have something other than off-white on the floor.

Meanwhile, the Pride’s Children characters are starting to nag, and I keep trying to form some kind of a schedule and have a tiny bit of energy go to fiction. I have done no marketing in ages, and have sold maybe five copies in six months. You can really disappear that way. It’s a good thing I’m not a quitter!

As I always say: I’m working on it.

And how are you?


 

Second attempt to restart writing

Section of library at University Retirement Community showing Pride's Childre on the new books shelf, Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

THE LIBRARY AT URC’S NEW BOOKS SHELF

It takes a while to get back to work.

My previous attempt, one good working day after six months of nada, was on October 2, 2018, right after I got my files back from the crash.

My apologies for the radio silence, but it has been a combination of 1) things needing doing RIGHT NOW, and 2) an exhaustion so profound as a result of the continued stress that thinking was not a possibility.

Not CREATIVE thinking. Nor ORGANIZED thinking.

Tearing out your life by the roots has consequences

In NJ, we had doctors, cars, a driver’s license, food in the basement freezer, bicycles…

In CA, we didn’t.

We haven’t bought a car, and may not. But the shared car available at our new retirement community requires:

  • a California driver’s license
  • our NJ driving record, which in turn required doing stuff online, waiting until they MAILED us an ID, to be used online to order the record!
  • permission from our doctor (when we didn’t even have a doctor) – and I still can’t believe I had to ask permission from him when I finally got an internist and an appointment
  •  ‘Mature Driver’s Course’ – available online, and which only took me 17 hours and three days to complete. If you would like to experience frustration, try the course. And the test questions seemed to be designed to get you to fail. It only took me two tries – and I could have done it faster if I hadn’t reviewed the entire course first.
  • filling out the forms.

It would just be nice to have the option to sign out the vehicle (which comes with fuel and insurance) instead of having to deal with a car rental agency.

And yes, Lyft and Uber and the facility’s own group vehicles, and the on-site bikes and trike are all available.

But nothing is quit like putting your shoes on, walking to your car, popping in, adjusting the mirrors if necessary – and driving away.

Except that it’s an expensive option if you don’t use if often.

I had assistants in NJ

Wonderful helpful women who made my life easier, because they always did whatever I needed when they came.

But there’s no room in this one-bedroom apartment for an assistant, and a lot less for one to do, so I probably won’t have one here.

As a result, there’s a lot of non-urgent unpacking still to be done.

And we’re still waiting for a larger place.

Everything is different

Have I mentioned having a social life? It’s nice – but there is a lot of it, even with just going to dinner every day.

And most things have an inflexible time, something I only had occasionally back in NJ (congratulate me on not calling it ‘home’ very often). Which basically means a lot of time wasted because it’s almost time to do X, or you just got home from doing X.

But today I gritted my teeth

Told myself to stop wasting time, as I may have a lot less of it than I think.

Blocked the internet for several hours with Freedom.

Located the papers I created or brought.

Took out the Scrivener project, the Dramatica Story Expert file, and my Calendar.

And dove in.

I must say, I am VERY proud of my incessant note-taking as I write – because it was like having everything poured back into my brain from a pitcher.

It’s been seven months (if you don’t count the one day) since anything substantial, and I’m hoping this attempt will take.

And I found that the pieces I’ve already done are just fine, and ready to take to the next step, writing the individual scenes for this chapter.

I don’t care how many tries it takes to really get going

None of the interruptions have been my doing. Everything is taking a lot longer to do than it should in anyone’s imagination.

Registering to vote took ages, but I finally have online proof, which I printed out; the voter registration card which has been promised has not yet arrived. That was a high priority, and is usually done in conjunction with the driver’s license, but, because of the other things I need (including replacing my handicapped placard, for which I needed the doctor mentioned above to fill out the form, which meant I had to see him…), we haven’t gone to get the new licenses yet.

Looking back, there is a mañana attitude to life here – from everyone. People tell me it was years before they were completely settled. Though most people move in here older than we are now. And many are in-state, a large portion of those local enough to keep some of their doctors.

And of course we have to try everything, from the Bizarre Bazaar (bought a table and three chairs) to the End of Life discussion group which is starting (postponed that one – it’s a six-week commitment, for an hour and a half each week, either Tuesday or Saturday right in the middle of the afternoon!) to an activity I won’t mention that didn’t work.

And popping into the pools. Ah, pools! And hot tubs.

And the hours it took to connect so I could have Pride’s Children: PURGATORY catalogued (see picture of New Books section).

Just hope for me that it takes hold this time. I am getting very grumpy.

And how have you all been?


Accidentally published first as page, not post – brain not completely back on board! I was mystified: I usually get at least ONE comment. !Ay, Alicia!

I didn’t see the wild pineapples

Pineapple on grass. Text: The effect of a single choice. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

BUT MY CHILDREN DID

And brought back photos. (Not this one.)

There is an oddness to the idea of pineapples in the wild that pleases me.

The modern pineapple is a huge, heavy fruit, supported by a strong stalk. Much like modern melons, watermelons, and papayas, it is hard to believe (okay, impossible) that they are the way we see in the supermarket solely due to evolution.

Evolution produces fruit which attracts animals that eat the fruit and scatter the plants’ seeds, with their poop (fertilizer) somewhat farther away than the plant can throw. In our case, the pineapple, continents away. Shop Rite has pineapples.

Why pineapples, and why now?

Because I have to get back to writing blog posts.

It has been a desert for a while, as all the chores crowded in to vacation and retirement community decision and coming back to a house where everything was in boxes (for the painters) and the staging ladies had transformed the now-sparse contents into a model home.

So many things that HAVE to be done crowded out the optional ones.

The lack of window shades on most windows makes it like living in a fish bowl, only fish are not required to clean their own bowl. It’s nice if they do (by eating the algae, etc.), but that’s asking for perfection. Husband has done marvels with something I didn’t even know existed: temporary paper shades from Amazon which get cut to the right width with scissors, and attached with temporary mounts.

Sleeping has been possible, at least in our bedroom.

Where did THIS pineapple come from?

Stencil – I was looking for an image to write some words on, and the pineapple grabbed me, since I know I saw a picture the kids took on a hike with a wild pineapple growing in a fields (might have been a former Dole plantation).

Today is the first day in a while that something major and required didn’t take over all the energy for the day, but I have gotten out of the habit of putting my thoughts into some kind of order, and I’ve been a total slug all day.

And now we come to the single part.

I check my emails several times a day. Just habit. And hoping there might be an interesting thing to read, or a tidbit of a conversation setting itself up. And one not purely utilitarian and needing an answer, like the email from the woman at the solar company who needs my monthly input to get me the solar energy credits (SRECS) from our installation.

With me ignoring my blogs, and all, I am reduced to input (you don’t get much if you’re not writing) from two people today who saved my brain from the mush: a patron on my Patreon who commented on the new scene available there (the finished scene from Book 2 that I’m serializing). A very favorite patron.

And one of a kind I hadn’t seen in a while: a reader on Wattpad who commented, and is reading the beginning of Pride’s Children which remains there as a sample, as allowed by Amazon’s KDP for books in KU.

With limited promotion for either of these sites, I don’t often get comments. But getting one – from someone discovering my writing for the first time – was a kick in the seat of the pants as to how much I need feedback.

Single project authors can get lost.

Forever.

Stories of authors saved by someone else: John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces, (whose mom insisted on getting his manuscript accepted for publication after he committed suicide in despair – and won the Pulitzer – posthumously). Austin Tappan Wright, Islandia (whose wife typed up his 2400 page manuscript after he died). Even Stephen King, whose wife rescued Carrie from the circular file.

How many more are there out there who spent years, decades on their creations (Tolkien) AND (the more important part) created something of great value?

Rescued by a single act of feedback from a reader?

Computers, word processing software, and the internet now make it possible for writers to create works which are massive and available to many – if the many only look.

As in everything, I fear the great majority of the epics are not great fiction (wouldn’t know, haven’t read them) simply because of Sturgeon’s Law: statistically, they can’t be. But those many projects include a few good ones for some reader somewhere.

Readers keep us writers working. It’s that simple.

Unless the writer has many other sources of support as a writer, the projects can seem hobbies, dilettantism, something to do that is not video games or watching TV.

I thank today’s two readers. It had gotten a bit parched. I’m still here. I love readers.

Must get moving both on writing – and promotion – to find more. I am not unhappy to admit I need them. Even if I claim to write for myself.

Do you ever feel invisible? What gets you out of that state?


 

A writer’s Patreon can be fun

Neon plastic dinosaur toys with text: A new venture, a writer's Patreon; Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

FOR THE CHATTY WRITER!

I just finished another free public post in my new Patreon:

Workspace notes for Scene 21.2
https://www.patreon.com/posts/18317676
984 words

I’m using this Patreon as
1) a place to post the finished scenes in Book 2 (Pride’s Children: NETHERWORLD) as I create them – the first chapter of the book, Chapter 21 in the trilogy as I number continuously in case I ever get to put the whole thing in a single volume (tagged ‘Free public posts) is now posted in its entirety, a scene a post.
2) a place to talk about me, me, me: my writing process, my ideas, my scenes – for those with a burning desire to examine how I do what I do (still producing more ‘Free public posts’ for now).

Why? Because I need it; but more because my writing process produces 10 to 100 times more written material, per scene, than ever ends up in a scene, and that’s the kind of ‘reward’ Patreon recommends that writers produce for their patrons.

I’d love to see Ursula LeGuin’s work notes for The Left Hand of Darkness if they were available, so I’m enjoying producing a few of this kind of posts to see if they are attractive. My #1 patron loved the first one. We’ll see how her enthusiasm holds up.

And it got my brain going this morning to have something both specific, and not too hard (as it’s based purely on that background material I already produced) to get writing on.

Stop by and poke around the free stuff already there, and give me some feedback. Are you interested in having patrons?
https://www.patreon.com/alicia_butcher_ehrhardt

And for me, the question is: Will you be my patron?

I checked out many of the writing Patreons. It’s not an easy site to do searches, but patience was rewarded, and I looked at fifteen pages of them to see what other writers were doing, what they were offering as rewards, and where they were on their writing journeys.

For strict writers of fiction (short stories, novellas, novels), I noticed that many were looking for support while writing their first novel – with no previous material listed as proof that they could finish one.

It is continuous crowdfunding – so to keep patrons interested and coming back, the writer has to produce a lot of new material.

I’m among the more organized Patreons; it isn’t a requirement. I’m sure the pressures of keeping a subscription site going are considerable if you don’t have a lot of usable material already. There are a lot graphic artists doing things like webcomics and graphic novels. Alas, I lack the talent (or the interest to develop any I like) beyond producing at least a few more covers that scream ‘Alicia did it!’

When I get to that stage again, I might use this (if there is interest) to post not just the final cover, but some of the steps and the thinking. Again, if I’m doing the background writing anyway, some of my readers might enjoy watching the process.

Reward tiers, ie, cost to patrons

My lowest tier is for scenes, and the next lowest is for scenes + background posts. Patreon wouldn’t let me offer them for less than $1, but you are allowed to cap the number of payments you will make in a month (which won’t stop you from getting them, only from paying for more than one a month).

My intention is to post up to two scenes a month, and up to two additional background scenes a month (to give myself time and space to make them look good – and remove a few spoilers from my notes which were intended to be private or to overwhelm my biographer(s)).

Patrons will help shape what I put up for those Workspace posts.

There are rewards for the truly committed – I’ve priced them in consideration of how hard it will be for me to satisfy the requests, and warned some may bring my writing on that day to a halt (I can only use each energy spoonful once, and I get far fewer than normal humans get).

Patrons can stop patronizing (patroning?) at any time, and late joiners will have the advantage of getting more early posts for free – and the disadvantage of not having as many credits toward a copy of the book when it’s finished.

So it’s an easy thing to try out.

1) Read the public posts already there (click button in sidebar to take you there).

2) Decide if you want more.

Easy peasy.

Maybe I’ll see you there. Got questions? Wish I’d had someone to answer them when I started the Patreon, but even I managed it in a week or so.

 

The Greatest Generation is now gone

AND, UNTIL IT’S YOUR TURN, LIVE

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?

FROM THE DRAFT POSTS FILE – 6/30/14

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

CAN A WRITER SELF-EDIT SUCCESSFULLY FOR PUBLICATION?

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).

Summary

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?

ARE EXTROVERTS MORE LIKELY TO PROMOTE FAVORITE BOOKS?

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

TODAY IS MY DAY

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.


INTERNATIONAL DAY OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Sunday, December 3, 2017


 

 

 

I write today in Uttar Pradesh

THE MOUNTAINS I CAN’T CLIMB ARE MINE

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

THE BEST START ON LIFE YOU COULD GET

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 SHARE WITH YOU, DEAR 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

THE SUMMER SLOW DOWN IS ACTUALLY A SPEED UP

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

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

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

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

On the To Do list:

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

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

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

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

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

I think that’s the major ones.

CCRCs in California

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dejunking is slow going

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

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

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

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

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

Exercise, walking, etc.

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

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

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

I swear.

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

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

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

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

The career as novelist

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

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

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

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

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

Drop a line

How’s YOUR summer going?

 

 

 

 

 

Writing in a niche market is fraught

AND CAN BE VERY HARD ON THE EGO

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.

The HOW

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:

Negative:

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.

Positive:

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.