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And so it begins. While I have enjoyed writing all of my life, I started taking it more seriously years ago. And, like any idiot, I started by trying to write a book. The story was good, but after a … Continue reading
This gallery contains 1 photo.
And so it begins. While I have enjoyed writing all of my life, I started taking it more seriously years ago. And, like any idiot, I started by trying to write a book. The story was good, but after a … Continue reading
I’ve recently finished my fourth book, and beta readers are on my mind. While it is always a good idea to have a stranger read your book, our first beta readers are often friends and family. Here’s some thoughts on the matter.
Anyone who writes is going to eventually need people to read what they’ve written. Be it a friend, family member, beta reader, editor, or agent, someone is going to read words that you have written. With that in mind, I offer you a list of guidelines. Let me make this very clear, these aren’t guidelines for your readers, they are guidelines for you.
Don’t Apologize for Your Work
You’ve spent time, tears, and assorted bits of your soul writing your words. Now, it’s time to find some readers.
“Please read this! Please! I know it’s my first book and it’s probably not very good but if you can find it in your heart to read it–”
Stop. I see this more with female writers. Our society teaches us to be more apologetic than our male counterparts. I recently read a study about business correspondence and how women in business use the word “sorry” far too often. Today I read the first draft of someone’s query letter. It began with a plea. Not cool. Not needed.
The other side of this is Don’t Be a Dick.
“You are in for such a treat! I am Mr. Awesomesauce, and I have written the most awesome book ever written in the history of writing! I envy you the experience of reading my awesome words for the first time.”
Ask people to read. Ask them with a goodly measure of politeness, but don’t beg and don’t be a dick about it. Let your writing speak for itself.
Speaking of which–
Let Your Writing Speak For Itself
Say you are asking someone to beta read. This conversation should not start with a verbal rendition of the entire plot of the book. You should not tell them about all the characters. You should not mention theme. What you are looking for is fresh eyes on your story. What you don’t want are eyes tinted by your own preconceived notions.
I sent my new book out to my intrepid beta readers this week. Know what I said about it?
“It’s a horror farce of 70k words. There’s some gross stuff in it, but it’s pretty light hearted.”
That is what your readers want to know. Genre is important. I have a beta who loves romances, but won’t read anything that even hints of tragedy or horror, and that’s cool. Not all genres are everyone’s cup of tea, and you don’t want a horror-phobe reading your horror piece anyway. Also mention the length. Face it. People have lives. They may not be able or willing to commit to your 200k manuscript, and that doesn’t make them bad people. Don’t try to bully people into reading something they may just not be that into, or may not have the time for.
Don’t Be a Bully
Ask people to read your work. If they say no, or make a polite excuse, then let it go. Don’t try to talk them into it, bully them into it, or force them to read it just to shut you up. After all, you are not looking for any old reader, you want people that are excited about the project. People that read of their own free will are going to be more forthcoming with feedback.
Once someone agrees to read, don’t start asking them a bunch of questions about it.
“Have you started reading yet? How about now? And now?”
“Have you finished it yet?”
“Where are you at in the story?”
“What did you think about that one specific thing in the second chapter?”
Let them alone. Let them read the entire thing before you start asking them anything. In fact, be careful about asking them anything, ever. Let them tell you whatever they chose. Find out which parts they felt were important in the book, instead of asking them about the parts you thought were important.
Some Won’t Finish, and That’s Okay
There will always be people who offer to read your work, and never finish it, or never start it at all. That’s okay. Maybe it wasn’t their cup of tea. Maybe they have too many things in their lives at the moment. Don’t harass them. Let it go.
The Reader is never Wrong
Each reader will have their own opinion about what they read. You may disagree or agree with their opinion, but you must never tell them they are wrong. Opinions, unlike facts, are never wrong. When a writer gets feedback, they have some serious thinking to do. They must decide what feedback is useful, what advice they will take, and what advice they will ignore. If multiple readers mention the same issue, then a writer needs to pay attention, and find a way to make their writing more clear.
The Reader Often Does Not Know How to Fix an Issue
Pay attention to content issues your readers find. They may make suggestions on how to fix those issues. Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not. While they know there is a problem, they often don’t know the best way to fix it. Listen, then find your own way to fix it.
Anyone who volunteers to beta read your work is inherently awesome. It doesn’t matter if they give you an in depth constructive criticism, or only tell you that they liked it. Be grateful that they took some time out of their lives to read your work, regardless of amount of feedback. Thank them.
So, the other day, I’m leaving after a long day at work, and there’s a group of teenage girls on the sidewalk. They asked me for a light. I thought briefly about asking how old they were, then I realized that was ridiculous. I’m not their parent or guardian, and they aren’t asking me for a cigarette, just a light. I lend them my lighter, and it takes two of them to light this Black and Mild type cigarillo they’ve gotten their hands on. It’s obvious that they have no idea what they are doing, and just as obvious that they are teens playing around at doing something they think is naughty and grown up. Teens have been doing this since the beginning of time, and the world hasn’t ended yet. Before you light up the comment section with how irresponsible I was lending them a lighter, I’ll mention that I have zero regret about this. If trying to puff on a filtered blunt is the worst trouble these girls get up to while they are attempting to figure out what it means to be an adult, then they are doing just fine, in my opinion.
While girl number two is trying to get the thing lit, girl number one tells me that she likes the color of my hair. It is pretty awesome; all platinum with pink stripes at the moment. I say, “Why, thank you.”
Apparently, this is all it takes. One short sentence. Girl number two stops trying to light the cigarillo to ask a question I’ve been asked so many times that I could not even guess at a number.
“Are you British?”
In my snarky way, I turn to her and say, “I am SO not,” and she looks at me with a sort of genteel disgust, as if to say “Look at Nanny 911 trying to get all jiggy with the slang.”
I get asked this question with enough frequency that it has become a constant puzzle to me. One woman in a vet office kept asking me questions because she loved hearing me talk, and thought I was from England. I’m not British. I’m SO not. There is not an expat among us that would hear me speak and think that I was from their side of the pond. So, why does it happen?
I don’t think that it is necessarily from my dialect, which has developed into a mismatched chimera of American accents as well as things I pick up, unawares, from anyone I’m in close contact with. I’m a bit of an audio sponge. My accent started out pure Hoosier, but going to college fairly erased the “gits” and “warshes” from my speech. A year in Houston and a couple of decades in Louisville added “You all” but “y’all” only when I think it’s funny. A few years in upstate New York certainly had an influence, as did summers in Utah and Wisconsin. I think my accent has become sort of an everyman, as it’s absorbed bits and dabs from all over the country. I’ve taken a couple of those “We can tell where you are from” quizzes, and they always come up West Coast, a place I haven’t actually lived.
One thing my nomadic life has not done is make me sound British.
Why? Why is it? I don’t think it is because my speech is especially proper. While my writing is conversational in tone, it comes off more fancy than how I express myself day-to-day. I certainly could speak with more flair than I do, but I made a decision long ago that I did not want to sound like an encyclopedia, and come off as if I were some sort of pompous smartyboots. Even so, my best guess as to why I get The Question is a matter of vocabulary. Despite my goal not to use quarter words when a ten cent word will do, my vocabulary still seems fancier than many people I run into, as I meander through my life in my non-British way.
I was speaking to coworkers once, and I used what seemed to me to be an everyday word, and was shocked when they both asked me what it meant. I think the word was “lurk.” These were educated people, and they were flummoxed by the word lurk. An evocative word, yes. A word with strong, precise flavor, certainly. Hardly a twenty-five cent word, and consisting of one simple syllable. Lurk is a fantabulous word. So much meaning crammed into such a simple sound.
The rabid wombat lurked in the shadows of the fallen oak, desperately hoping that the exhausted hikers would tarry there, and become an aperitif to slake its gnawing thirst for blood.
Wonderful word, lurk. Not, in my opinion, a smartyboots word at all. Why would any American not know this word? Why has our collective vocabulary become so narrow that such a word might stump us? Why do I get asked time and time again if I’m British, when my vocabulary is only passable, not stellar?
I think I’ll blame the arts for this one. I work in the arts, so I feel free to settle the lion’s share of the blame there. Hey, arts people, stop writing stupid sentences, and get some better words. People only go to school for so long, then they get most of their words from the arts. Screenwriters, stop filling scripts with oversimplified language. People are smarter than you think. No one will have a cow if you throw a “lurk” or two into the mix. Songwriters, we don’t need any more lyrics along the lines of “I’m gonna hit it then quit it.” Buy a thesaurus. Into each song you write, toss in one interesting synonym for the word “booty.” The world will not end, I assure you. If we get together on this, maybe one day I’ll realize that no one has accused me of being British in a long, long time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are British.
Poetic license is a very real thing in writing, one that should be utilized and embraced. In moderation, of course, like -ly adverbs. It can be useful, powerful, even lyrical to use an element of poetic license.
First off, let’s define poetic license. From the dictionary: license or liberty taken by a poet, prose writer, or other artist in deviating from rule, conventional form, logic, or fact, in order to produce a desired effect.
That’s it in a nutshell. It’s a form of art where writers take liberties with various aspects of language and grammar. It sounds rather naughty, doesn’t it? However, it’s an important element of writing style. Writing style isn’t about grammar rules, it’s about knowing when to bend them. Without style, our novels would read like business documents.
Poetic license gets its name from poets, who bravely sacrifice grammar, spelling, and sense to make their work take its proper shape and sing. They make up words and ignore proper usage in order to make it sound right to their ears. Take a look at Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky , or Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner to see poetic license run amok in all its twisty glory.
Now, writers of prose use a bit of poetic license as well. Our narrators, for example, may sound like how a character speaks instead of a bastion of proper English grammar. We may throw out rules of grammar in order to make the prose “sound” right. That’s all well and good, and keeps us from writing something that sounds like a physics term paper.
However, when reading one’s work, one needs to make sure that their more poetic choices are poetic…and not fucking nonsense.
I was reading a trashy story today, (I do enjoy an occasional bon bon for the mind.) and doing my best to ignore some bits of writing that were not quite up to par, when one of the characters “moaned silently.” That’s not poetic license, that’s rubbish. No one can moan silently, and if you try to have one of your characters manage this Herculean task, the reader is going to stop reading and start muttering “What the fuck?”
There’s no better way to throw a reader out of a story than to write something that makes no sense whatsoever. The very instant that you do this to a reader, you are giving them a moment to pause, and decide whether they want to keep reading your words or not. Am I reading that trashy story right now? No, I am writing a blog post instead. That writer put words together in a nonsensical fashion, threw me out of the story, and gave me a chance to make a decision. My decision was, “No, thank you. I do not want to read any more of your words.”
Don’t write a phrase simply because it sounds nice. Sometimes a writer can use a phrase like “bright darkness” to good effect, but no one can moan silently. They can stifle a moan, or bite one back, or smother it in a pillow, but they cannot moan silently. It’s a lazy, unclear, and non-descriptive choice. Don’t write lazy! Make the things your character does, and the things they say, make some sort of sense. Use poetic license, but use it intelligently; use it frugally. Make certain that you have a reason for it, and the reason should never solely be because it sounds pretty.
And, while I’m at it: “What do you want to do?” he asked, smiling.
Don’t make you characters try to talk while smiling! It’s difficult and awkward. No one apart from pageant contestants talks while in the midst of a jaw-breaking smile. Take your time and write what you mean.
“What do you want to do?” His tone of voice was innocent enough, but the way he smiled at her while she attempted to make up her mind was anything but.
Not a stellar example, to be sure, but it beats the pants off of “he asked, smiling.”
I have bad teeth. I’ve always had bad teeth. I had to have several baby teeth capped so that I had enough teeth to eat with before my adult teeth came in. No amount of brushing and flossing saved them. I used to hate toothpaste commercials when I was a child. “Look, Mom, no cavities!” My dentist visits were always more like “another four cavities to fill.” Later in life it was more like “Well, that’s another root canal and crown.” The only person in my life that didn’t give me a hard time about my teeth was my dentist, who could tell I was brushing and flossing but just had horrible teeth.
“Take care of your teeth and they’ll take care of you.”
Hell with that. My teeth were fuckers. Even my crowns eventually said “Fuck you, we’re out of here.”
People judge you when you have bad teeth. You might as well be an uneducated twat living in a hut in the woods and married to your cousin. You stop smiling. You start mumbling because you don’t want to open your mouth. You cover your mouth when you laugh. People still know your teeth are mostly missing. You just can’t keep teeth from showing when you talk, no matter how hard you try.
I’m fifty years old, and I’ve had a top denture for three entire days now. What took me so long? A bill that’s over four thousand dollars, that’s what took me so long. Teeth are as important to good health as the rest of your body, and bad teeth can kill you, but even if you are dying from bad teeth, no one really cares. Dental insurance is pretty laughable these days. I have two policies. Each pays a maximum of 750 bucks per year. Despite the fact that I had nine surgical extractions and dentures, neither policy wants to pay all of that 750 bucks. And a 750 dollar maximum is pretty common these days.
So how do you pay for a dentist bill over 4k when the insurance pays so little? My new job last year had a health savings account. I saved every penny of that, and added some of my own money every week. I also had a kind family member who gave me some money towards my teeth. I also found that most elusive of creatures, a dentist office that will let me make payments. So many places these days want all the money up front. Who the hell has that kind of money?
Money. Money is the only reason it’s taken me so long. Over 4k, and that was just for the uppers. I need a partial on the bottom, but that’s going to have to wait. I’ll have to get the upper paid off and save up some more money. And that’s if I get to keep my “Immediate Denture.” Immediate Dentures are often called “Temporary Dentures,” because once about 6 months have passed, and the bone and gums have healed completely, your immediate dentures often fit so badly that even a re-line isn’t enough. And the permanent re-line? That costs extra.
Enough about how teeth are fuckers, and on to what you need to know about the first few days with dentures. Keep in mind that my experience is with Immediate Dentures, upper only.
-Leave them in as much as you can stand. The first week, you should even sleep in them. The more used to them you are, the more natural they will seem, and the better you will be able to eat with them. After the first bit, you’re supposed to leave them out a few hours a day to let the roof of your mouth get some air, but that first week, wear that fucker all of the time. Early in the day it will seem pretty easy, by the end of the day they might make you crazy, but persevere.
-You will be attacked by excess saliva. Your mouth is reacting to a foreign object, expect some drool. By day three, it’s been much better.
– There will be blood. I had nine surgical extractions. My upper gums look like something out of a horror movie. My friends and family want to see a pic of my new teeth, but I don’t want one with blood on the teeth, so I’m waiting.
-You’ll be afraid to take it out the first time (after 24 hours, by the way) but it will be all right. Put your thumb behind your front teeth, and push up and out. This will break the seal and they will pop right out. Now you can rinse the blood and gore off of the inside of them. You can also rinse your mouth, but don’t spit! Don’t do anything to risk losing the scabs forming in your sockets. No spitting, no drinking from straws, and if you smoke, try to do it without closing your mouth and sucking.
-They will need to be constantly adjusted. This is the biggest reason you want a good dentist, and not some fly-by-night discount place. I was supposed to return in a week, but I had to call the dentist office this morning. the front was too high, and it was making my mouth so sore it was worse than the extraction sites. The office got me in today, and got it ground down in about 10 minutes. This will happen on and off as the swelling goes down. Expect lots of adjustments and call your dentist as often as you need to.
-It takes time to learn to eat. I’ve had complications because my pain meds and antibiotic have made me very pukey. The dentist took me off the antibiotic completely. I think I’ll try a half dose of the pain med. I’m sick of being nauseous.
And that’s where I stopped writing last night because even a half dose of that pain med made me so nauseated that I had to go lie down. No more pain med for me. I’ll just take some ibuprophen and suck it up.
-What can you eat? According to my dentist, anything you feel up too. You don’t have to stick to soft food, but your mouth will be sore and my doc said softer food is good to practice chewing. I’ve been doing all right. People warned me that bread would stick, but I’ve had no trouble with peanut butter sandwiches and grilled cheese. It’s easier to bite with your corner teeth than front. Today I had a nice frozen dinner with fish, rice, and broccoli and cheese, and handled it fine. Chewing with food on both sides of your mouth is easier than one side. I may not be chewing awesomely, but it’s better than chewing with no teeth. Some things are out of the question, like biting an apple, but I couldn’t do that before. The trick with biting things is that you have to learn to bite against it instead of pulling away from it as feels normal.
-How do you clean them? Get a denture brush and clean with water. Toothpaste is too abrasive, and even products that are marketed to clean dentures will dull them over time. You don’t need to waste money on fizzy baths or denture paste; just brush them with water.
If you need dentures, be fearless. It’s not that bad. Save up some money if you can, find a good dentist, and look for one that will let you do a payment plan. Then practice eating and practice talking until your s sounds stop whistling.
CreateSpace is Amazon’s gateway to easy self-publishing. Whatever your opinion of Amazon, CreateSpace, and self-publishing in general, it’s a useful tool and fairly user friendly. I learned to use it to publish a book of my mother’s. Because the program is so popular, it was easy for someone like me to find tutorials on formatting and the like, so that I could use it to publish Mom’s Little Brown Bird. I then used CreateSpace to publish my own children’s book, Leonardo Da Bunni.
Leonardo was an interesting project. It sprung from the fact that I needed a present for a friend’s baby. Why not write them a book? So I did. My only real objective in self-publishing it was to have a snazzy copy of the book to give my friend’s baby. That some folks bought it was icing on the cake.
After my father passed away last April, I got to thinking about CreateSpace again. My dad had written a short account of his life back in 1987. I found it when I was going through his papers. The family enjoyed reading it. I also had a bunch of his old photos which some of the family had never seen.
I wondered how much it would cost to print a short book of my dad’s story and a bunch of photos. What followed was a twenty-six page book of story and photos that makes a lovely and professionally printed memento for his family and friends.
A memento that only cost me about three bucks a piece to have printed.
That’s the big deal. If I took a project like this to a printing company it would cost much more than that. Even if I wanted to copy the pages myself and put them in a binder or scrapbook, that’s going to be far more expensive. Average cost of a color copy at most places is around a buck a page. CreateSpace made it cheaper than buying color cartridges and printing the pages myself.
That’s got me thinking of other non-traditional projects I can use CreateSpace for. A photo album book of the Disney vacation my sweetie and I took with his family would make a nice Christmas gift. (Sorry, Curleys. Spoilers!) I also would love to print a family cookbook, not to try to sell–they are a dime a dozen out there–but just for my family to have and enjoy. There are other photo album projects I would enjoy doing. I’m playing with the idea of making one where the pages look like scrapbook pages.
So keep in mind that CreateSpace is a useful resource in and of itself. It’s not just for self-publishing books to sell to strangers.
I haven’t written a blog post in some time. I didn’t mean to abandon it. Many things were happening in my life, and time just kept rolling along whether I wanted it to or not. Said goodbye to a pet, a computer, a phone, and my wonderful father, who passed away this April. Got a full time job finally, after a year of short term jobs following our move north to help out my folks. Fiancé Brian got a full time job as well, so financially things are looking up. I have summers off from work, and I had expected to spend this one spending time with my father and doing lots of writing, but time keeps on turning, and unexpected things pounce on you when you least expect them.
Now, I have more time than I’m used to. Time off from work. My father needed a great deal of care but he’s in a place where time doesn’t much matter now. I have found myself resentful of this abundance of time. I liked taking care of my dad. It’s weird not to have to help him and check on him. I have filled my time with things that don’t require too much thinking. Lots of yard work, cooking, shopping, and picture taking. My old phone was a dumb phone. The new one has Instagram. I like Instagram.
During all of this, I turned fifty last month. So I dyed my hair pink.
Me: “I’m going to dye my hair pink.”
Brian: “You know you’re fifty, right?”
Me: “Yes. That’s why I can do whatever the hell I want.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have been practicing doing whatever the hell I want for a long time. While I am aware of things like tact, politeness, obligation, and duty, I have made a habit of balancing those things with doing whatever the hell I wanted to. But I got a bit boring, I think, in my forties. Not too boring. I still sang karaoke, wrote books, and played dungeons and dragons. I changed my career twice. I changed my home and my hometown when I needed to. But personally, a bit boring in matters of dress and hair color, for example. Perhaps it was an unexpected and unwelcome reaction to working with at risk kids and being expected to set a rather boring example. It did not help that in some places I worked, some members of the staff ranged from judgmental to bigoted to misogynistic. Now I am back to working in the theatre where fellow workers tend to be very non-judgmental and diverse. I finally feel free to not only be myself, but also to look myself.
However, age certainly plays a part in my recent return to doing whatever the hell I want. When I was very young, I was terribly self-conscious. An introvert with anxiety issues, I worried about what people thought and how I looked. As I have aged, I have fought those concerns, mostly by acting like I didn’t care what others thought until I eventually didn’t care. I care about what those people who are close to me think, but I don’t give a fig what strangers and acquaintances think about me, and I haven’t for some time.
So, instead of seeing fifty as a loathsome milestone leading to nothing better than canes and rocking chairs, I find that I am looking forward to using my age to care even less what others think of me. It’s simply one more stepping stone in my ongoing journey to do and be whoever I damn well want.
I went to the farmer’s market today. A pair of older gentlemen were manning a table for the Lions club, and I stopped to buy some mints. I love those Lion mints. I spoke to the men minding the table, making friendly small talk. They were perfectly polite, but not as friendly as I expected. Then I remembered that I had re-dyed my hair today, in all its pink glory, and their manner made me giggle. I bet they are still talking about that woman with the pink hair. Soon, we’ll be having the memorial for my dad. My hair will still be pink. I don’t care what anyone else there thinks. My dad would have loved it. He’d been going blind for a long time, but, until the last few months, he could still see colors if they were bright enough. My hair is very bright.
Getting older may not be a barrel of monkeys all the time. You lose people. Life takes some unexpected turns. My psoriatic arthritis gets worse as the years go by. I’m getting an upper denture this month to replace my horrible broken teeth. Menopauseing is annoying. None of this slows me down. The psoriasis is doable, soon I’ll be able to smile again, and I’m really looking forward to being menopaused. I’m back in a career I trained for and that I love, and I’m working with some awesome people. Every decade I have lived has ended up being better than the one before it, and I don’t see any reason for that to change with my fifties.
If you are turning fifty soon, fear not. Nothing important changes, you just become more you. Be brave. Learn something new. Dye your hair pink. Do whatever the hell you want.
My children’s book, Leonardo Da Bunni, is up and running. I’ve never had so much fun writing anything, and I’m crazy proud of it.
It all started because I wanted to make a shower gift for a friend at work. I work in a regional theatre costume shop. We had just opened a play called Red, about artist Mark Rothko. Then we began work on Velveteen Rabbit. Which inspired this stuffed toy for my friend’s baby:
That led to me thinking about rabbits and art, and Leonardo, the baby rabbit with a penchant for painting, was born.
I have an extensive art background, but I am not an illustrator. When I had the idea to do parodies of famous works of art for the illustrations in Leonardo, everything fell into place. The pictures came before the story, which seems a little backward to me, but that’s how it went down. Once I had ten parody paintings, I started writing the story to incorporate them.
The story pretty much wrote itself. I love Leonardo, and that made him easy to write about. The tale was written over a few days, then came the required polishing and tweaking. Then it was time to
fight with upload to CreateSpace.
Now it’s promotion time. It’s my first time trying to promote a book that I’ve self-published. I know it’s going to be an ongoing process, but I’m looking forward to the journey as well as to learning new things. The first thing that I learned was how to make a book trailer.
I also got a whole slew of bookmarks printed to give to local libraries and such. I know it takes a great deal of work to promote a book, and I have time that’s limited by a day job as well as taking care of my parents. I’ll give it my best shot. I may not be as successful at it as people who have been through this rodeo before, but we all have to start somewhere. I love Leo. It’s the least I can do for him.
Spread the word if you can. If you are looking for a guest blogger, or starting a blog hop, let me know. I’ve never done either of those things, but it sounds like fun to me.
I was born in 1965. When I was a very small child, my Dad worked on one of the first computers in the state. He took me to see it. It filled an entire room and was programmed with punch cards. My non-smart phone probably has more memory than that behemoth did. My Dad used to bring me punch cards home to play with.
I didn’t see anything like a modern PC until I was a senior in high school. Our high school got a couple and put them in the library. There were no classes to teach you to use them, and it was hard to get time on them. I didn’t try. I was busy enough as it was, and I didn’t have time to fight for limited time on a machine I didn’t know how to use.
College wasn’t much more computer friendly. Students did not yet have personal computers, as they remained too expensive for personal use. There was a computer lab with banks of the things that were used by people taking computer classes. The only available classes were for programing and already outdated computer languages such as BASIC, and FORTRAN. There were no classes at the time that simply taught one how to use a computer. It was the mid-1980’s, and while the internet was being born, it was still a realm for academia. Neither I, nor anyone I knew, had ever been on the internet. It didn’t really become mainstream until the 90’s.
In 1989 I first put my hands on a computer. I was working at a theatre in Syracuse, and my boss had a PC in her office that she encouraged her employees to learn to use. No internet yet, but I ran into my first word processing program, and taught myself to use it. It wasn’t easy. When you are 24 before you first get to use a computer, and there is no internet or Google to answer your questions, it’s difficult to learn to use any sort of program.
Around 1995, my fiancé and I got our first personal computer. It was a hand-me-down from Brian’s parents. They had switched up to a better machine, and were kind enough to let us have the old one. By this time, more and more people were getting personal computers, but they were still outrageously expensive. The average price for a computer was around 3,000 bucks. Far more that we could have afforded. Our first computer had 4 bytes of RAM. Yeah, you read that correctly. I did not forget to add an “M,” there wasn’t one. Bytes. Not Megabytes, and Gigs were a pipe dream at that time. It was enough to get us online to check email, but if we tried to access a website, the entire system would crash. My fiancé had majored in computer science at college, and between his know-how, and my sister-in-law’s spare parts, he upgraded the computer enough that we could go on the internet. It was fun, but it wasn’t the information superhighway that it is now. Google wouldn’t become a thing for two more years. If you wanted to view a website, you kinda had to know where it was already.
So what is the point of this history of computers in my life?
I have learned a great deal about computers during my lifetime. I’ve taught myself to use programs like Word, Paint Shop Pro, and FrontPage. Brian has taught me a lot about computers. I can swap out a hard drive, and remove viruses. For being 49 years old, I am pretty computer savvy.
Computer programs still occasionally make me want to tear my hair out.
My children’s book, Leonardo Da Bunni, is in the process of being published through CreateSpace. I was smart this time. I picked my trim size, font size, etc., and wrote the book in the format I planned to use. I had already taught myself about page breaks and linking or unlinking sections when I formatted my mother’s book for her. When I uploaded the book for the first time, I had some picture DPI issues, but no formatting errors. Sometime during the editing process, I had a few minor issues to fix.
That’s when I lost page 58.
I’m not talking about the page numbers that I inserted, I’m saying that my word document did not have a page 58 at all. The tab that tells you the page you are on skipped from 57 to 59. 58 didn’t exist, so when I uploaded it to Createspace, they added a blank page with no border, no formatting, no nothing.
Because I did not grow up knowing about computers, because I taught myself the basics of Word, and learned new things as I needed them, I had no idea what to do.
I tried shouting at Word that there was too a page 58, but it didn’t believe me. Google was no help. Try searching “missing page in Word” and you’ll get a lot of information about inserting page numbers and sections, which was not the problem.
It took countless hours and thousands of lives, but I fixed the problem. Ok, I am exaggerating. It took about 30 minutes of hair-pulling-out fun. I fixed it, I’m not even sure how. It involved moving words and then trying to put them back in place without making page 58 disappear again. The new file was uploaded, and Leo should go live tomorrow.
I’m proud of all I’ve learned about computers during my life. The knowledge didn’t come easy, and a lot of my self-taught lessons have holes in them. Some days, there is no such thing as user friendly.
As you may have known, I took part in July’s NaNoWriMo event, which is much like the November event, with some relaxed guidelines. I did well. I wrote over 50k words on Teatime of the Living Dead, and got it about 80% finished.
Then I never wrote again…
Okay, that’s being a bit dramatic. How about:
Then I fell off the face of the Earth…
I got burn out. That’s what I did. Trying to handle that kind of writing load on top of other responsibilities was too much. I did it, and I don’t regret the experience. It was fun to be grouped with a bunch of other authors and work on a project I was very excited about. Then it was a chore. Then it was writer’s block inducing. Then I was just relieved it was over.
Then I stopped writing and blogging for almost three months. Not exactly the effect I was going for. When I did start writing again, it wasn’t the project I was expecting to write. I love Teatime, and hope to finish it soon. I also have a couple re-writes to do on two other books. So what did I write?
A book for young children. That’s a very different genre for me, though I have written one before. A co-worker of mine is going to have a baby. I made her a stuffed rabbit for baby moonbeam, and it ended up very cute. Crushed light brown velvet body, and blue fun fur ears and top of head. It’s adorable.
At the costume shop, we were working on a play about an artist. I kept thinking about bunnies and art, and this is what happened:
Now, Leonardo Da Bunni is going through the proof stage, and should be released mid-month. I’m very excited about it, so excited that I made my first book trailer. Not only will it make my friend at work squee, but I’m really pleased with the final outcome.
I’m glad to get back to writing. I will never do NaNoWriMo again. At least, I don’t think so. We’ll see how I feel next July, but I will never do the November event, not while that’s such a busy time at my day job. I think it’s a wonderful event which ended up being not for me. I encourage my fellow writer’s to try it out, at least once. Without it, and the subsequent break from writing, I might not have been inspired to write Leonardo Da Bunni, and I really love Leo.
Leonardo Da Bunni is coming out later this month, and you can check for release date, etc., at leonardodabunni.com
My third book, Descending, has been out at some publishers. I got a rejection on one partial a while back, and it had a little feedback attached. I don’t often get feedback from anyone, so I was excited at first.
Until I read it.
Don’t get me wrong; there was a point of useful information that I am taking into consideration, and I may make adjustments to the opening chapter. It’s an easy fix that requires little more than a couple extra sentences. My biggest problem with this feedback is that it was beating that favorite literary horse of the month, Show Don’t Tell.
You can’t participate in any literary group without hearing that phrase bandied about. It’s right up there with “Adjectives are the Devil.” In case you are unclear on the meaning of the phrase, here’s an example:
“The rabid wombat slunk closer. Jayne was worried that it would soon attack.”
“The rabid wombat slunk closer. Jayne could feel the hairs lifting on the back of his neck. The muscles in his legs tightened, as if his body was ready to run as soon as his mind made the decision to do so. A growl from the beast made him flinch, and he sputtered out a breath he hadn’t been aware he’d been holding.”
In the first example, I, the writer, am telling you that Jayne is worried. In the second, I’m describing what that worry looks and feels like—I’m showing it to you.
In many, many cases, the second example if far superior to the first. The writer is really allowing the reader to get involved and experience what is going on. In Descending, I use that showing often, because it’s very close third person POV. I want the reader to be in the narrator’s head. However, I don’t always show rather than tell. I know it’s sacrilegious in these “Show Don’t Tell” times, but there are cases where I believe tell is a better choice.
Such as in fast pace action scenes, say for example, a plane crash.
Descending opens with a plane crash, and then goes straight into what the characters need to immediately do to survive. In the first chapter, we see how our heroine deals with the crash and the aftermath, and we also see what she thinks of the coworkers that she’s flying with. It’s deep POV. This isn’t exactly how her coworkers truly are, it’s her opinion of them. As we find later in the book, some of her opinions are wrong. But we’re in her head, so at the start of the book, we don’t know this.
Think Harry Potter, which is almost completely written from Harry’s point of view. In this POV, Professor Snape is shown as a completely horrible being, because Harry thinks he is. As we read through the series, Snape has actions that are in conflict with this view, because Harry’s view of him isn’t an objective view. Our opinion of Snape is colored by Harry’s opinion.
It’s the same as in the beginning of my book, though I’m not pretending that I do it as effectively as JKR. I can’t have the cast of characters show their foibles, because they don’t all have them. It’s just my MC’s opinion of them. It’s meant to get the reader inside her head.
And you know where I think show vs tell has the least effect? During high-paced action scenes. For those that think every single line of a book should be show and not tell, take a look at some of the classics.
“Can’t sell his head? — What sort of a bamboozingly story is this you are telling me?” getting into a towering rage. “Do you pretend to say, landlord, that this harpooneer is actually engaged this blessed Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, in peddling his head around this town?”
That’s from Moby-Dick. I suppose that today Mr. Melville would be chastised for not giving us lengthy prose describing that towering rage, but his telling us about it isn’t hurting his tale in the least.
Yes, showing instead of telling can be a very useful tool to improve the quality of your writing. However, like most such rules, there is a time and a place for it. In my opinion, the middle of a plane crash is not the time to wax poetic.
It took me time to decide not to change the telling that I have in my first chapter. My first impulse was that all my writing sucks and I must immediately re-write the entire book! (Word of advice—never make sweeping changes based on one reader’s opinion. Also, this initial reaction to crit is normal. Breathe, it will pass.) Luckily for me, I have learned to step back for a period of time before changing things based on crit received. I came to the conclusion that it would bog down the pace and bore the reader in this specific instance. At the least, I want to hear from a critter who has read more than a couple chapters before making sweeping changes. It did not help that the critter in this case gave me an example that was not true to life, which made me distrustful of the advice given.
MC thinks another character drinks too much. This proves not to be the case later in the story. That character has no difficulty being away from alcohol. Critter suggested that rather than have the narrator think this, the character should pull a flask out of his pocket. On an airplane. In America. Where airlines allow no liquids to be carried on, not even a bottle of water, let alone a flask of flammable liquid. Nope. I’m not making that change. I’ll lose the line about the MC thinking he drinks too much before I will put something so unrealistic into my story.
As is the general rule, critters often can tell you what’s wrong with a story, but they rarely know how to fix it.
In conclusion, yes, for the most part showing is better than telling based on current literary style. However, keep in mind that there is a time and place for both, and flasks have no business on airplanes.
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