Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Is a person a Who or a That?

Reposted with permission from Bryan Garner, Distinguished Research Professor of Law, Southern Baptist University.

      My recommendation: don't be one of those people that insist on not using that in reference to humans. And be curious enough to consult usage books when you suspect that someone is linguistically errant.

Garner's Dictionary of Legal Usage 945
   (3d ed. 2011).
Garner's Modern American Usage 808, 862
   (3d ed. 2009).

Sunday, June 23, 2013

When is a manuscript finished?

When is a story or a manuscript finished?
I think mine is finished when it’s perfect. You know, after that first draft, and after I go through it for the sixth or seventh time, editing, tweaking, adding, subtracting, and polishing. Okay, maybe the eighth or ninth time. What? Still not perfect?
Newsflash: mine will never be perfect by anyone’s standards—especially not by mine, my editor’s, my readers’ or my publisher’s. Therefore, it will never be finished. Does that mean I stop? No, it means I quit.
Nobody knows what perfect means. Of course we all type The End, when we are finished. However, The End to me, doesn’t mean it’s really finished. It simply means I quit.
I don’t mean quitting here in a bad sense. It means I will quit re-writing, editing, polishing, tweaking, listening to critics and making changes. Quitting means that I am confident that the story or manuscript is the best that I can make it. Quitting means that it’s ready to let loose to the world.
I quit only after editing, rewriting, and polishing. Am I speaking doublespeak? No. I absolutely edit, re-write and polish. But only enough to get me to a place where I can quit. So is the story, manuscript finished? Probably not. But I will quit and publish it.
A friend of mine, a talented artist once told me that his paintings were never finished. He simply quit painting on them.
So it is with my manuscripts.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How NOT To Write A Novel

While thinking about what I would write about today, and procrastinating as much as possible, yet still failing to accomplish anything, I found this in my email and just had to share.


How Not To Write A Novel, In Ten Easy Steps

(A tongue-in-cheek look at how to prepare for your next book)


1. Binge watch all of Doctor Who.  Or maybe Downton Abbey, if that’s more your thing. It’s market research, right? And it’s kind of popular, so you want to stay with the times. Very important to be able to relate to your fans. You have to watch at least two episodes per night in order to be able to keep up with it all…which doesn’t leave much room for writing.

2. Sit there and stare at your computer. For hours. Trying to think of the absolute, most PERFECT way to begin your story. Because once those words are down, YOU CAN NEVER CHANGE THEM. Am I right? Huh?

3. Listen to everyone’s writing advice ever, simultaneously. So I should outline. That’s what JR Ward does. Or…maybe I shouldn’t, because Joe Hill says they are the devil. And I need to have an office with a door that closes, because Stephen King says that’s the thing to do. Only, JK Rowling writes in cafes… and then should I write the end first? I heard a few guys suggest that. But everyone *I* know starts from the beginning.

4. Watch your Twitter feed like it’s TV. Because you never know what’s going to pop up. Industry news is important!

5. STORYBOARD!! But before you storyboard, you have to go to the store to buy all kinds of post it notes and colored markers. And then you have to lay everything out juuuuust perfectly. I mean, this could take WEEKS.

6. Drink. Yeah, I know. There are so many famous novelists out there who were total drunks! It has to be a for-sure way to finish a novel. Well, no way. You have a drink, you start thinking about plot points. Next thing you know, you’re…well, binge watching Doctor Who. Or pulling pranks on your neighbors. Or singing karaoke with your husband. It’s not pretty.

7. Only write when the muse strikes. That’s right. Wait for her to come floating along on the ether, magic wand at the ready, singing and sparkling. As soon at that happens, the writing magic begins!

8. Share a hotel room with your boss. “We’re gonna get SO much work done on this trip! We’re going to write! We’re gonna to get business stuff done! We’re gonna…are you sleepy? I’m sleepy. Let’s take a nap.”

9. Constantly revise. Because incessant polishing that you-know-what will make it shine. Yup. Write a draft. Then write another one because that one stunk. But this one stinks too. This next idea sounds AWESOME! Yeah, it sucks. Maybe if I change the POV character… or make it set on the moon! It’s kind of like the Winchester Mansion. Keep adding on and fixing it, and it will NEVER be done.

10. Get lots of bunnies as pets. Not only are they cute, but they are constant sources of both entertainment and distraction. And if you refuse to be distracted…well, they will ensure you are by being naughty.

Well, that about sums it up. So, remember, kids, if you never want to get that novel or story written, be sure to follow these steps to the letter. Do you guys have any additions to the list?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bad Dreams

I had a bad dream last night. Oh, it wasn’t a scary dream, like about monsters or such, but it was, nevertheless, a really bad dream. It made me wonder, once I awoke, whether or not dreams like this could be fatal.

Whenever I used to hear that someone died in his or her sleep from a heart attack or stroke, I would always cluck sympathetically and assume that the person had some sort of underlying risk. That their time was up.

But after my bad dream, I have to ask myself, “What if someone’s death was really from a bad dream?” Because, if they died we’d never know if the bad dream caused the death.  He or she wouldn’t be around to tell us. After my bad dream, I have to wonder.

In my dream, I became so angry at someone, that I was out of control furious. I’m pretty sure my blood pressure had to have shot through the top of my head. I don’t suffer from high blood pressure issues, so the end didn’t come for me last night. But what if I had high blood pressure? Or a bad heart? Seriously. Maybe I would have died. And my poor husband would have told everyone at the visitation, “So strange that she died of a heart attack. She didn’t have heart problems. Of course, she wasn’t a teenager anymore. Tsk Tsk.”

Many years ago, I read an article by a psychologist or a psychiatrist ( I always get those two mixed up) who postured that if one was in the habit of having scary dreams, one could train oneself to say “this is only a dream,” and then bring oneself out of the dream.  I’ve actually tried that a time or two, and saved myself from some blood sucking monsters. I would wake up and the dream would fizzle away.

But back to this terrible rage I felt. I didn’t tell myself I was only dreaming. Probably because the dream was so vividly real. Someone was messing with Cami, my ’79 Camaro. It stayed with me all day. I think the only solution to that is to train myself in real life not to get so angry. Wait, I did that already. Perhaps it’s all the repressed rage manifesting itself while I sleep. After holding it in so long, and all.

I may need help from one of those psycho people… psychologist or psychiatrist?


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Writing is Like Mowing the Yard

I don’t think I’m obsessive compulsive. Just because I like order in my surroundings doesn’t mean I’m OCD. So okay, I clean off my desk every night when I go home from work (at my real job). I just like to start fresh every day.

Last weekend I decided to mow. I walked over to get the ZTR Hustler out of the shed, and of course,  it needed gas. My son had mowed and there was barely enough gas left in it to start it. I keep the gas in a different shed. So I started it, drove it to the shed and filled up with gas. I also checked the oil. It’s a five thousand dollar mower, so I don’t want it blowing up for lack of maintenance.  When all was ready, I headed out back to mow near the pond.

I mow in a pattern. It’s a huge patch, so if I looked at the entire thing as one big area, I would have gotten discouraged. Instead, I picked a small section at a time, mowed it, then moved on to another section and so forth. As I mowed, I encountered large branches that had fallen during the storm. I detoured around those and left them until I could go fetch the big Kubota tractor with the front end loader. I also detoured around several land turtles who thought they were hiding. If those turtles had been the alligator snapping turtles, they would have been blown away. I mow with my .38 by my side. I didn’t detour around the snake. I mowed him over.

When I was nearly finished, I spotted several big rocks. Where I live, rocks are a thriving crop. Again, another task for the Kubota. When I finished mowing, I fetched the weed eater to clean up the mowed area and put finishing touches on the job.

As I mowed, I thought about my current work in progress. I was nearing the end of my first draft, and had one major final scene left to write. I planned it out in my head. Mowing is good planning time.

You see, my idea for this current Rhetta adventure is a pretty big-seventy plus thousand words, many chapters, lots of scenes. When I first pantsed it, (I’m a pantser not a plotter) it was nearly too big to tackle. However, I sat down at the computer and prepared my new Word doc, spent time setting up margins headers, footers, etc. When the maintenance was done, I was ready to mow. I mean, write.

I knew where I wanted the story to start and where I wanted it to end. I knew what had to be in the middle. So I began to mow. I mean, write. I wrote in scenes, and chapters. Soon the scenes and chapters seamed themselves together into a story. Along the way, I circled round some tough spots, like those branches. I left them, marked them to return later to fix. I got my Kubota, I mean my husband, Bill, who is my best reader, to help me move them.

I found the land turtles, I mean, story inconsistencies, moved them, too, and cleaned up the story.

I met a huge snake, my synopsis and showed him who was boss.

My story is done and the weed eating begins. I mean editing.

Writing is just like mowing.




Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Writing Life in 2012

I love it when a great post comes along that features writing and cars!

Here's a great post from Self Publishing 2.0:
Writing Life in 2012 vs 1986
Posted: 25 Dec 2012 01:34 PM PST
I bought my Dodge Omni in 1986 on my first professional engineering job, shuffling paperwork for a military contractor in New Jersey. It was excruciatingly boring, but I stuck it out five months and left as soon as I could pay back my dad for the down-payment on the car. I mainly remember drinking beer for lunch in the officers club at Fort Monmouth with a retired Army Captain who got me in. He worked for the contractor a couple years while his kid finished High School in the area, after which he planned to start a charter fishing business in Florida. Speaking of water, the image below is the water pump off the Omni which failed after 282,000 miles.
I originally went to engineering school for two reasons, one of which was that I imagined getting a job where I could make or repair all kinds of neat stuff. But the New Jersey job was 100% paperwork, and the next job I was offered (by Raytheon in Boston) was software quality control, just as bad. I turned it down and took a job that paid $5,000/year less because, even though it involved writing computer manuals, they also had technician work for me, building and repairing PCs. I did both jobs by working seven days a week, often 12 hours a day. In the image below, I’ve skim coated the surface of the water pump housing with Permatex gasket maker, as a sealant.
While giving the gasket a chance to set up, I called a friend in Israel to check up on how his job hunt was going. He’s an ex-newspaper editor who worked the last couple years for a charitable foundation arranging education programs in Jerusalem, so if anybody has any job leads for him, let me know. I commented that I’ve been looking for something new to do myself, and when he asked, “Doing what?”, I told him I’ve had more fun the last two days replacing a water pump outside in December than I’ve had publishing this year. He asked, “Can you make a living doing that?” Below I’m positioning the gasket on the water pump housing. Note that the holes line up, but the gasket appears to be for a different version of the housing.
The answer is, I couldn’t make a living as a mechanic, I’m not qualified. If I was looking for a job, I’d make a better Jack-of-all-trades (and master of none) maintenance guy or town engineer (for a desperate town:-) than an on-the-clock mechanic. I’ve never been interested in doing things by the book, I just want it to work. And that’s helped me in publishing whenever something new came along, like the Internet, Print-on-Demand, or eBooks, but once the new field reaches maturity, there’s less room for the seat-of-the-pants types, even if they helped create the business. The image below shows where the pump housing mates with the engine block.
The purpose of a water pump in the car is to keep the coolant moving. It takes in the coolant from the lower radiator hose and pumps it into the engine through the inlet shown above. But the coolant doesn’t flow until the car warms up and the thermostat allows the coolant from the engine, always under pressure from the pump, to flow into the radiator through the top radiator hose. There, it gets cooled by the wind through the radiator (or the fan while idling) and gets pumped back through the engine in an endless journey.
It’s not a bad metaphor for being self employed in publishing, the endless journey part. While some titles are truly evergreen and can persist for decades without little or no updating, most successful self published titles have their time in the sun and then fade away, even if new or revised editions appear. I think part of it is authors like myself who having produced a book that “works” don’t see the point of changing everything in order to meet the latest fashion, use the newest buzz words and fit the current marketing trends. As the water pump below is clearly mismatched to the housing, I see myself and some of my contemporaries having trouble aligning with the current publishing environment.
The picture exaggerates the mismatch, camera angles do that sometimes if you look for them, but in the center-top of the picture you can clearly see the new shiny aluminum pump (and some of the gasket) standing proud of the old housing by as much as a third of an inch. I used the part because there was no way to get another until two days after Christmas. Not surprisingly, it leaked a little after running for a half-hour, and I suspect it’s the manufacturer’s idea of a universal replacement that bolts up on several versions of Chrysler 2.2 liter and 2.5 liter engines of the era. Being a hack, I just tried over-torquing the bolts that I can still get at with the pump on the car, and I’ll find out on the road tomorrow if that bought me anything. As much as I enjoy working on the car, it’s cold out in December, and the bulk of the job is really removing the alternator and the alternator bracket, which is more work than it sounds.
And that’s good analogy for self publishing as well, because most of the effort ends up going into something other than writing the book. One reason a lot of authors give for staying with an established trade publisher is that they don’t want to do “all that other stuff,” especially dealing with multiple contractors for the editorial and design process. I’ve slowly grown more sympathetic to the specialist approach to publishing for established professionals. But I still think it’s a mistake for newcomers, who are spending serious money on speculation for something they could have tested by publishing a simple Kindle eBook or CreateSpace POD version out of Word.
To stretch for another automotive analogy, you can think of newcomers to self publishing as people with no mechanical knowledge. They take a car to a body shop where they are charged thousands of dollars to smooth out the dents and make it all pretty, only to have the worn out transaxle dissolve into gear soup just before the car breaks into pieces going over a speed bump. Experienced authors have a pretty good idea of how a new title will sell, and that often feeds back into the amount of money the author is willing to invest in production.
None of which has anything to do with the fact that I wish I owned a barn or a garage where I could spend a chunk of day tinkering, but I suppose if I expect people to read my self publishing blog I have to say something about publishing from time to time. And I do think I’ve arrived at the interesting truth that in publishing, as in so many other fields, some of us are better at developing new businesses than in growing or exploiting them. My own track record suggests that I’d be better off working on the next thing in publishing than on trying to compete with more polished writers and publishers. Maybe I’ll think of something with the New Year.
And a free at-a-boy to anybody who can spot the major hack in the last photo.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

This is a poster I take with me to the car shows, and to my book signings. Cami is a real car, my 1979 Camaro Rally Sport. Unlike the Cami in my Rhetta McCarter mystery series,  the real Cami is only equipped with a V-8 305, the engine she was born with. That will change this winter. The 305 is smoking and my number one mechanic, Jeff,  thinks it needs a ring job. So into the shop Cami will go.
While she won't be getting a Corvette LS 1 like in the books, she will be getting a bored-over small block 350 and a new transmission to go with it. Those horses will definitely pick 'em up and put 'em down.
To add to the fun, Cami will also get an air conditioner so I can enjoy her more. The original Cami didn't have AC-- not fun in these hot Missouri summers. While Cami will be in the garage, she'll also be getting a few other new things-- new tail light lenses and a touch up on her white interior. She will come out in the spring, ready for the 2013 Show Season, and for me to enjoy her!
I was pleased to get an email the other day from Linda Rima, a lady after my own heart who also loves muscle cars. Her preference is the Mustang, and I gotta admit, I love 'em too! Linda put the muscle car feeling she got from Rhetta quite nicely."Thanks so much for a wonderful trip down muscle car memory lane.  I truly wish I had one of those Mustangs now.  Every woman should have a V8 once in her life!"