Monday, June 27, 2011


My wife asked me to burn a CD the other day for the car and it got me thinking. Isn't media like paper? Haven't we moved passed the need for it?

We certainly have the technology: three iPods, three iPhones, an iPad, and a Kindle all of which are capable of playing music. But the iPods require a headset to listen which is illegal to use while driving. The iPhones are a better choice except that who wants to run down their battery for music. The iPad is new and is still being setup and the Kindle is a poor choice because the control is poor.

It would be nice if we had a car that lets you integrate the music player into it but we don't. We have a car with a CD player which was a requirement for me when we bought the thing seven years ago. Consequently the CDs stack up, like books and DVDs, because they require no extra power and this makes the disk the best choice all around.

Of course, using a gadget for music means checking the battery of the thing.  I am tired of checking the power level of all these devices or my laptops.  Frankly the issue of batteries makes these devices little more than toys.  The power cables that entangle the devices are even worse.  But there's probably a whole blog post about how much I hate all the power cables for these devices.

Now I'm not saying get rid of CDs or the devices that will probably replace them. But I am noticing the clutter of my life collect like cholesterol in the blood and wondering if there isn't a better way. Sometimes I think we have too much technology and promoted without thinking about it's impact on our society or the world. The car is a good example. When there were only a few they weren't a problem. But now in a world of seven billion and counting they are a major source of pollution and potential cause for climate change.

Computer technology is no different. The proliferation of technology is changing us in ways we don't even realize yet and despite this we embrace it like candy and ice cream. I am guilty of this as anyone. But the words of Thoreau scream in my ears to simplify. Perhaps I'm too far down the technology path to change. Perhaps I don't really want to. Or perhaps it's an addiction like cigarettes. I don't know. But it troubles me... Not enough not to buy an iPad but enough to say something. Yellow alert.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Walk and Chew Bubble Gum

How well do you multitask?  Can you, say, you write and edit at the same time?  Or better yet, what about doing multiple types of edits at once?  That one is my favorite because I certainly can't even though I try.

For example, while revising my second novel, I've been looking for missing scenes to round out the story and the characters.  While I'm doing this, I am not editing for grammar or punctuation.  I am not rewording for flow and to improve sentence structure because I can't do all that at the same time.

Trying to do so is a rookie mistake unless you are an undiscovered genius of have the brain the size of a planet.   A better approach is to handle one type of edit at a time.

You can probably combine spelling, punctuation, grammar, and wording (copy edit stuff) in one editorial pass.  But missing scenes and plot changes and characterizations and all those bigger items are probably best done separately.

I had this conversation with a writer friend of mine.  She observed that in her attempt to write a novel, the end of the story was better written that the beginning.   But she was so overwhelmed at all the things she would have to touch in order to fix it, at the time, she threw it all away.  She fell prey to trying to do too much at once.

How unfortunate.  The experienced writer knows this is going to expect and realizes that when it does, you go back to the beginning and revise in order to even out the story.  Generally, I start with something simple and let it take me into the story.  For example, on my last pass through my novel I was looking for missing scenes.  I kept asking, "what are my others characters doing while the camera is focused on the scenes I'm reading?  Do I need to show those actions?"  If the answer is yes, I have new scenes to write.  If the answer is no, I move on.

How do I know how to answer the question?  Experience and intent.  Since I am trying to show the actions of all my major characters, if a scene includes one of them and advances the story, it goes in.  And since I now have a small stable of characters and show what they are doing is hard and time-consuming.

Notice I said major characters, not main characters.  The story has five main characters and introduces five more characters that will be important later in other books.  The new characters don't look important at the moment but they will be and I can bide my time before rounding them out since what's important is the story I am trying to tale.

None of since means, by the way, that the new scenes will survive a final round of editing.  That remains to be seen.  What happens now is I read the novel and see if it holds together.  If it does, I start looking at the wording, sentence structure, and so on.  If not, I make the adjustments I need to make.  We'll see.  But regardless of what happens, this novel looks to be on track for an end-of-year release.

Keep your fingers crossed on that one.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I've been dreaming again.  Not of my future or lost in some reverie of my own invention during the day,  I mean at night, in bed, while I'm sleeping.

According to medical experts, we all dream when we sleep.  I, however, have a long history of not remembering them.  But recently that's changed.  I can only assume it has something to do with my increased writing.

I find it very odd, like the dreams that I've been having.  Just the other day, I was a satyr looking for a human mate.  I have no idea why?  But at the time I thought it would make a good story; now, I'm not so sure.  But I've had that happen before.  Ideas that seem good in my dreams do not work when I'm sitting at the keyboard.

And for some reason I keep dreaming about technology.  Last night, I kept dreaming about network issues with a play-and-plug Ethernet connection on my Mac.  That makes no sense either.

But then my dreams rarely make any sense and is why I usually ignore them.  The important stuff that happens while I sleep -- reviewing the past day's event, working out issues, coming up with solutions -- all transpires without my knowledge and without calling attention to itself.  Ideas just pop into my head or something just spills out onto the page when I write.

Some people will say that's the muse.  I don't.  It is my imagination and it's like a muscle.  It needs exercise, flexing, and occasionally straining to do its job.  Go to far or not far enough and it doesn't work as well... or in some cases at all.

I've certainly been flexing my imagination more these last few weeks.  Perhaps my dreams at night are the result of it unwinding the way the muscles in my arms and legs unwind when I sleep.

I don't know.  But it leaves my feeling like I've seen incredible beauty and am awestruck, struggling for the words to describe just how amazing true beauty it.

I suppose I could go back to sleep.  Except I've got all this writing to do...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sales are Up

I've been surprised recently by email from Smashwords.  They reports sales of my novel after several months of no activity.  I think the reason for the change is I added a longer description of the book to the book's profile.

I stopped promoting the book while I was revising it because I didn't want a lot of copies out there from the old version.  Now I'm waiting to hear from the publisher who has shown interest to determine if I unpublish the old version of the book or update it with my revision.

If I update it, my plan is to make the revision freely available to anyone who purchased the old version.  I'll probably cut my price a little too.

If I unpublish, then all these headaches are (more or less) on the shoulder of the publisher.  I say more or less because as the author I am always responsible for promoting my book.  It will take a different form, such as book signings or and beefing up my web site and less work with Smashwords.

It would be great if I received more mail from Smashwords about more sales, but I'm not expecting it or waiting for it.  My second novel calls to me and I need to answer that call, exploring new areas of my characters and seeing what turns up.

I've got my lantern and miner's helmet to go spelunking into these dark depths of my characters.  Wish me luck; I should be back by the time I need to post here again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Something Wonderful

Recently I've begun to eliminate distractions so I can focus more on my writing.  For example, the other day I turned down a freelance job to help create a web site.  A few years ago, I would have loved to take such a job, but now it is noise.  My heart isn't there any more. Likewise, I've put away most of my other  non-writing projects so I can focus on my novels and characters.

I don't know why I never did this before.  Writing is my first love.  I've said that for years.  So why has it taken so long to actually do the writing?

One answer is: with one book done and another on the way I've begun to feel it is time to put away distractions, things I've been doing for years that suck time away from writing.

But that's probably not the whole story.  I think the characters have something to do with it too.  I can feel them in my head and I can feel the story unfolding, clamoring for attention.  Additionally, I love get up in the morning now knowing that I will write, create, and add to my work in progress.

In one sense, I feel more alive than I ever have.  And yet, some parts of my life a shut down (at least for now).  But I have too many interests to pursue them all at once.  And some of them, like web site design, I've done long enough that I can put it away.

What is odd is that it feels like a semi-retirement.  I'm pretty sure that I won't do much web site design again and yet I'm too young to about retiring from anything in the usual sense of the word.  And I don't think I will ever fully retire.  I plan to keep writing until something stops me.  But the burden of some things I am putting down and discovering how much better my life is.

It's wonderful.

Friday, June 10, 2011


As a general rule, I'm not a big fan of surprises because usually it means more work or more strife or more complication in my life.  Who needs that?  It is also the reason I don't like scary movies.  But there are exceptions to this rule...

For example, I like to surprise myself.  This does not happen often but when it does it means I've learned something about myself or I've revealed something about a character in one of my stories that I never knew.

I should probably say here that I usually sketch out the plot of my stories before I write so I know where it is going.  All major characters are sketched out too but their back stories are largely blank, only the parts that are needed for my purposes are filled in.  The nice thing about this approach is it lets me fill in pieces as I need to.  When that happens, I sometimes surprise myself.

A perfect example of this is my wizard, Brashani.  I've written five short stories with him and he is also in the fantasy series I'm working on.  In all that writing, I never once thought about him having a wife.  But then it occurred to me, he must have had one and something happened to her, something big, something beyond his control.  And he blames himself and that's why he drinks and spent years and years of his life drifting.  Suddenly the whole character changed and I understood him better than ever.

More recently, I've been revising my second novel, delving deep into all my characters with only a rough idea of a given scene.  I've done this intentionally because I want to let the characters speak through me.  And then did, fighting among themselves.  That was a surprise, I'd never written such a scene with them before.

The other nice thing about this approach is one character will mention something in the presence of another character and spark new scenes I never planned.  I let these things happen mostly to see where they go.  I can always cut them if I have to.

And now that I've been doing this awhile I've learned that I really need to pay attention to the characters' subplots.  They each have an agenda (explicit or implicit) and I need to follow each plot while telling the story I want to tell.

It's a lot of work, but the surprises make it all worthwhile.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Disaster Recovery

Living on the east coast of the United States, I sort of expect hurricanes to march up it and possibly threaten my home and community.  Generally, here in the northeast, we get more powerful storms like that in the winter.  The word nor''easter can bring fear to even the heartiest of New Englanders.  This winter was a perfect example of what can happen with three feet of snow in one month.

In the summer, hurricanes are a threaten again but are less certain.  So we will wait and watch.  The real deal breaker is we've started getting tornados too.  Several touched down west of me the other day and it got me thinking.  What would I do if my house was flattened?  Assuming I wasn't in it or was in the basement and lived through the event, how would I rebuild.

The answer is I probably wouldn't.  At least not the same way.  The clutter I've collected over the years is the result of years of living my life but it is sort of like cholesterol, threatening to choke the life out of me.  So if I lost everything, I wouldn't too upset over my refrigerator being crushed or my couch being shredded.  I can replace those.  The things that would upset me the most would be the items I can't replace.

Photos from my wedding, for example.  The lamp I made in wood shop as a kid, my grandfather's pocket watch, and, of course, my stories.  My unpublished stories to be more precise.  My published stories exist out in the world and are safe -- safer -- than my unpublished ones.  In fact, one only copy of those stories exist, my copy.

I started thinking about this and began to see I'd need several gigabytes of space to store all the data I would want to save.  Once I knew that I began to think about the best way to store it.

A flash drive or thumb drive is one option.  I generally don't carry such an item with me at all times so if it was in the house when the house was destroyed, my assumption is the drive would be too.

There are online services I could use but I really don't want to pay anyone.

I have space on GoDaddy, where I host my web sites, but I really don't want to suck up gigabytes of space there.

Then I realized I usually carry lots of unused computer space around with me without realizing it.  Where?  In my phone.  I have a 16GB iPhone, of which I use maybe 1 or 2 gigabytes.  It could easily house my data all I needed was a way to transfer it to my phone.  And since I usually have my phone with me, if I survive a tornado strike, most likely, so will my phone.

And so after a little perusal on the App Store I found something that turns my phone into an FTP server. This allows me to transfer data to it with the FTP client I use to upload files to GoDaddy.

The rest is history.  I now have a backup copy of my most important data in my phone as a precaution.  And I recommend any writer within the sound of my blog do the same.  Our most valuable asset is our intellectual property and that's our stories and ideas.  So it is paramount that we, as writers, protect it so that in the event of a disaster, like a tornado, we can recover from it and keep going.

I hope I never have to test my makeshift recovery plan but I'm glad I have a backup somewhere that's always with me just in case the worst happens.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Are We Losing Words?

I get this feeling every-so-often that we have losing words.  I find I drift into comfortable patterns of expression and stay there.  Other people do this too, I've noticed.  For example, I find I use the word 'look' at lots.

  • He looked at me.
  • He looked over the room.
  • He looked sick.

Not the best writing admittedly.  So I force myself to change my patterns of expression and replace (almost said look there) weak words with stronger ones.

  • He stared at me making me nervous.
  • He scanned the room with his eyes searching for obvious signs of forced entry.
  • He turned green and his cheeks expanded.  I thought for sure he would vomit any second.
Much nicer; revised and expanded.  But this is all basic Writing 105 stuff, right?  And I'm sure we all do it and it is a normal part of the writing and revision process.

However, that doesn't change the fact that I miss words like cajole or vehement or zeal.  They sound great but often do fit my writing.  I suppose it is the poet in me.  I love the sound of words as much as using them to express thoughts and ideas.

And yet...

The conspiracy side of me wonders why we don't see more variety in writing and wants to put the blame on technology and the pace of life in the 21st century.  The theory goes that since we are bombarded (there's a good word) with tons of more information than we can take in, we have been forced to strip down all communication to the bare essentials.  This carries over to our entertainment and when we read, longwinded prose is dull and uninteresting.  We want stories that get to the point, say what they need to, and more on.

I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but for the most part this makes sense to me and certainly fits my reading habits and tastes.  I think my concern is what that means for the language and for writing in general.  If we all stop using interesting words and writing variety becomes extinct, then reading a story is like reading instructions for assembling the kids' swing set or bicycle.

Is that what we want?  Probably not.

Then what can we do to stop it?  Practice expressing the same thought in many different ways.  I do this occasionally because different characters will express themselves in different ways.  I should probably do this more.