Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The incredible disappearing Q W E R T Y

The incredible disappearing QWERTY.
What is the most important tool for me as a writer?  That is easy: a keyboard.  I mention this as I have noticed that over the years of owning various computers that the keyboard letters are fading more quickly with each new purchase as I upgrade. In essence, as I upgrade the computer, technology seems to be downgrading the durability of the lettering.  I am fairly proficient at keyboarding, but I do use certain letters as landmarks for where other keys are when I am not sitting at my desk.

You know the routine.  There are several things to get done, so I turn on the computer, run to move laundry to the dryer, come back and enter my login, but I am not sitting down, so I have to hunt and peck to locate the keys.  Only, E, R, T, I, S, D, H, L, C, and N are completely gone, and several are in the process of disappearing.  So this simple entering of a login turns into a frustrating moment of trying to visualize a keyboard my fingers know well, but my eyes do not.

Each time I sit down at my computer and note this particular annoyance, I think of a new way I can replace these keys markers:  paint (the obvious: would nail polish work?  I have a really nice opalescent.), etch them in with a hot needle (somewhat raised as the original keyboards were), replace the keys, buy replacement stickers, buy a new keyboard (really?!), etc.

Sure keyboards are a throw away item, so excess durability is useless.  But I want to be the one to decide when my keyboard is ready to go the will-a-the-wisp, and I'll make the decision based on letters showing or not showing on my screen not disappearing off my keyboard.

Maybe I just need to use my P's and Q's a lot more and my R's and E's a lot less.

Update:  I purchased replacement letters to stick on the blank keys.  Then my husband bought me a new computer a month later. So the keyboard letter wear is great on the old keyboard. My new one: well less than a year later the lovely backlit letters began to not fade, but disappear in a whole new fashion.

The keys are cut into the layer of "paint" so the light can glow the letter. But that "paint" is getting scratched off so my keyboard letters are now taking on this sort of smudged effect, rather like a ultra modernist painter swished a vaguely alphabetic impression on the board. The culprit letters are: E, S, D, T, N and M.  No surprise there. Except that I had the previous keyboard near ten years, and this one lasted a mere year.

I am still not using those P's and Q's all that much.

Any suggestions?  Should we strike, demand keyboards with raised letters, argue functionality over bells and whistles?  Maybe I'll just nail polish this time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last 2011 Tuesday prompt

Look through your memories and find one that was especially sad.   Think about all the details.  Make yourself sad. Now write it down in a narrative voice that is not yours.   Write it in poetry, personal prose or short story.  Add this twist to it: Look at it from a funny perspective.  Be smiling when you are done.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The best can come out of the bits and pieces

I have always been a believer in the idea that there are things that are specifically made to fit a situation or need, but one can always come up with a bypass if that item is just not available. This is how I manage to deal with computers that don't want to work or when an overhead projector at school decides to go on the fritz. Being a teacher, I need to be ready for every contingency.  I remind my students of this outlook when one tells me the computer died just as she was about to type a homework assignment (pull out a pencil and write) or his printer broke (email it). (Computers crashing far outnumber dogs eating homework these days).  I think I learned this make-do style from my father.

My mom always did the cooking, but there were rare times when she was too sick and my father had to take over.  He never minded, she always did.  He would look in the refrigerator and start pulling things out.  A pot on the stove was the destination for everything he found.  In the end, the bubbling mass would look like a poor quality of concrete ready for pouring.  We would make burritos with it, adding cheddar cheese and taco sauce.  Though it looked disgusting, it was delicious.

When my mom was well enough to return to the kitchen, we would all make her "sick" with our rapturous descriptions of Dad's "Slab" recipe.

I look at writing this way, too.  Need a name for a character to be common but memorable:  I pick an average name, Fred for instance, and add/delete a letter.  Fned Carson is one of the characters in my short story tentatively titled "Scrapper."  He's an average guy whose life has been flowing downhill for awhile (something that happened to my father for a time, too). My main character Moekaff, an eight-year-old boy, is left at Carson's Rest, a transport rest stop and restaurant. There the two suffer separately as they try to deal with rough times.  I needed Fned to be both an addition to Moe's troubles but also a man with a right to be angry and depressed, ready to take out his frustrations on this kid who is himself in mourning.  They don't save each other, but they do share their misery and somehow walk away with possibilities.  But that is only a part of the journey Moekaff takes before he finds a place to call home again.  I am still finishing this story and hope to make it part of an anthology of science fiction stories I have written.  As soon as it's done, I'll finish my redraft on my second novel of my Students of Jumps series, No Time Like the Present.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's Tuesday -- so here's the prompt

Your main character is asleep and though it is early, the sun is lightening the room enough to discern furnishings and objects about the place.  Have your main character begin his usual wake up routine.  When he gets up to sit on the side of the bed for the last residuals of sleep to pass, have him notice something in the room that is just not as it should be.  Maybe someone else's shoes are next to the bureau or perhaps different jewelry is in the tray where cufflinks or earrings are normally left to be put away later or used again.  Maybe the bedding is not the same as it was the night before. Whatever it is that is different, have your character figure out why it is.

(To avoid the he/she, his/her, etc., inserts to avoid saying "they," I put a male reference and for no other reason.  Replace it with a female reference if needed.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Never thought I would own an RV

So we decided to get a motor home, and my husband became married to a motor home online sales site.  He searched all the time, sometimes showing me the ones way beyond our price and others within range but not configured the way we wanted. We looked at a few and they were intriguing in unique ways.

The first was pretty good, but the owner had made no effort whatever to remove her stuff or clean up the RV.  Really, shouldn't a person clean out the stove, vacuum a bit and air out the refrigerator when you know people are going to be snooping about?  You know, if you are going to sell a house, you should neaten things up a bit, maybe bake cookies so everything smells good.  We're pretty good at looking beyond such stuff.  All the same, it was the disorganized one in my mind, besides being just too small for the price.  Had it been nice from moment one, I might have been won over despite the size.

A second looked better, larger and neat but too much looked nice but didn't work. If we didn't want to drive it any where, we were good.  The engine was spotty when it came to power, not all lights were working, inside and out, no refrigerator, etc.

We looked at a third because the price was good, but it looked like it was used by hunters without a care for cleanliness, not to mention quite a bit of the practical items missing or damaged. I began to think what we could afford was just not what we would want.  But the man kept looking.

He found another that looked pretty good in pictures and was said to be in pretty good working order.  So we knocked on the door clearly waking up the owner (even though we had made an appointment) who looked like he had partied all night.  He let us tour the RV, and I tried really hard to smell beyond the distinct odor of less than legal ingredients, look beyond the poor and abandoned attempt at refinishing the cabinets, the replacement couch (a metal frame with a lumpy mattress), no refrigerator, etc.  It was the largest we had looked at, and we wanted to give it a chance, so we talked about how we could renovate the inside figuring it would come to about $1,500. But did we really want a vehicle that might cause us to be marked by a drug dog at school because we spent too much time in our RV's fumes? We started referring to it as the drug den RV in order to differentiate it from the others that were just not what we wanted.

So he found another weeks later and pretty much after we had both determined we were going to have to save another two grand to get something we would want to camp in.  I went along, prying at my not so open mind.  We arrived in a really nice neighborhood, upscale country.  Checked out the RV on a cold rainy night.  Nice colors (time-faded pink, almost tan -- no stripes or gaudy colors), everything worked, all original except for a new refrigerator, fellow educators and the price was right for us.  So we own a motor home.  But my husband after all that looking at fixer uppers cannot leave well enough alone.  He's busy making prettier what was already pretty.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Another Tuesday night writing prompt

Everybody has one of those items in their house that they don't know the purpose of. I once had a slender silver cylinder measuring thingy (received from my husband's family and sold by him at a garage sale) that was also a music box (say 8 inches tall, base included, and 2 inches in diameter).  That is, if you turn the little crank on the round silver bottom, it would play a tinny jingle.  It had marks engraved down the side I believe for measuring portions of a cup.  But if one were to put flour or sugar in it, the powder or grains would filter down into the music box box below through the margins where the silver cylinder and silver base met.  It was definitely silver, tarnished and all.  So the question is what was it used to measure?

Your prompt in all of this is find your strange item and give it a history and a purpose.  Or it you don't have such a thing, give mine a history and a purpose. And share it with me. I would love to know the possibilities behind it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tuesday prompt time

This is more of a change in perspective than an actual topic prompt.  What I suggest you do is go sit someplace where you don't usually go to write.  In my class, I have my students sit on the table or beneath it or face a corner.  How many teachers ask you to sit on their tables (none that I know of, unless you are in my classroom)?  Each of my students find something to write about because it is such an unexpected place to be.  But you could sit behind your couch, or underneath the porch swing or in a tree, behind the rose bush or under your bed. Sure some of you are saying, "Done that."  So find your own out-of-the-norm place and see what comes to mind and out those fingers.  If you have trouble coming up with something, write about "going sideways."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My father and I married people allergic to cats, but...

we did have the good fortune of having cats in the family prior to those marriages.  So what made me think of this?  I saw a Siamese cat, a beautiful brown point, sitting on a porch as my husband and I were driving home today from the store.  And I just starting thinking about my dad's Siamese cats, Ming and Ling. (There was also a parakeet whose name I cannot remember and a chihuahua named Pepe, but they have their own stories which I will leave for another time.)

They joined my dad's family before I was born, but not too much before as we still had them when I was five, and they were pretty feisty then.  My father told me those cats were fearless and intelligent.  He said there was a full-size standard poodle who lived on the block, and it would walk past the house and menace Ming and Ling, even chase them if he thought he could get away with it.

Well, one day my dad was at home -- must have been a weekend.  He noticed the two cats were hanging out in the front yard, but not just relaxing. One was in a small palm tree on the grassed area between the sidewalk and the road.  The other, we'll say it was Ling, the male of the pair, was down below walking about the spiky trunk.  It was a fairly young palm tree, as I remember I used to hang my baby doll's blanket like a hammock from the points of the sharp-edged trunk and place my doll inside for a nap while the slender swishing leaves dangled down about me, and that was after the cats had decided to live out on their own.

So he had noted their slightly odd behavior but had not thought much about it.  When he looked out front an hour later, they were still there, Ming mounted in the palm leaves above and Ling below tirelessly traipsing around the tree. My dad was about to turn back to whatever he was doing, when he saw the black poodle walking down the sidewalk.  He saw Ling still stepping around the tree casual as you please.  My father expected the cats to start spitting or run for the house.  But they did neither.  Ling sat down looking at the dog still a good fifty feet away.  That should have rang bells for the canine, but he planted himself firmly on four feet and then tore down the walk straight for Ling.  My dad regretted in that moment having had the cats declawed in front.  He'd wanted them to have some degree of protection, but he didn't have much faith in the fact that they still had their rear claws.  Just as this poodle pounced on Ling, Ming leaped from her perch above on to his back, plunging all her rear claws into his back while wrapping her front legs around his neck and biting him wherever she could reach.  Ling in turn had twisted onto his own back, pressed his front paws into the ground beneath him and leveraged his rear legs up scratching at the dog's face.  The battle lasted seconds before the dog took off making the usual frightened dog wails.  And the cats?  They just strolled back to the house.  My dad was certain it was a planned ambush.

This was my father's story as all I remember of  Ming and Ling is that they left one day.  My father said they went off for adventures.  I recall walking around the house calling their names, hoping every day they would come back.  They returned once, weeks later, looking healthy and happy and then left again presumably off for further adventures.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I love it when a lesson comes together

Today I was introducing the idea that interpreting poetry is heavily based in the personal experience and knowledge of the reader.  I wanted my students to have a strong grasp on perspective and how it influences how we look at things. So I found several Escher pictures online ( and one by one (via the usual various cables, a computer, an overhead projector and a screen) presented them to my students.  We talked about each one and tried to switch back and forth to see the different images. 

I particularly like this lesson because the students get excited about seeing things in a different way.  Later when we start examining poetry and the students have different viewpoints on meaning and imagery, I can remind them of these Escher prints and how we each saw different images at first, but ultimately, they all drew together a similar idea about what was happening in the print.  They learned for this brief moment to appreciate the different viewpoints of each student and to realize those differences increase their understanding.

So today my students enjoyed a great lesson. It was one of those I wish my principal could have been present to see on those days when he is there to evaluate my teaching.  Aw well, there will be other great days when a lesson comes together and feels like I produced magic.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday prompt

Imagine the sky a different color.  In fact, split it right down the middle.  To the left the loveliest color in your imaginative arsenal and to the right the most frightening color.  Choose one of these questions to get you rolling along in your writing.  1.  Who would live under such a sky?  2.  What could make the sky look like this?  3.  These are the colors you were expecting to see.  What would seeing pale blue do to your psyche?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kenny Rogers, the First Edition and my writing

I remember when I first starting thinking about writing my book In Times Passed.  I worked at a factory and was a product grader.  I would pull off the line anything that didn't meet quality requirements.  Doesn't take much thought or intelligence, just good automaton-like reflexes. I would listen to music, day dream, write letters in my head while my eyes registered flaws and my hands reached out and grabbed, flipped and dropped the item into the correct bin based on the type of flaw.

Then a song came on the radio by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, "I just dropped in (to see what condition my condition was in)." As I listened, the story of a man who found a means to travel in time started playing out in my mind.  I liked the image of him "dropping in to see what condition [his] condition was in."  And it was there that the idea for my book came from. I actually didn't start writing it for several months. Each night at work, I would run the story through my mind again and again, working out the characters, problems he would run into, who his friends were, where and when it was all happening.  And every once in a while, that song would play on the radio again and refresh the images in my mind.  So finally I sat down and began writing out the story.

The book has evolved a lot since then, changing, repeatedly edited, redrafted, etc. I thought of it as the book I was learning to write on, though I had written two other books before I began it.  It seemed to be the one I most wanted to make work.  I went on to write a sequel for it and then a third and fourth, thinking all the time that one of them would be good enough to get published.  But I never really made the effort to publish.  Oh, I did some half-hearted efforts:  I sent the manuscript to a contest once and a synopsis of it to a publisher another time.  Nothing came of it.  I've redrafted it several times since then.

So here we are in the digital age.  I can self-publish via and see if someone can enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed thinking of it, writing it and redrafting it.  When I think of that book, it reminds me of the days in the factory and how much it made the time go by for me.  And I still think of it as the book I learned to write on.  And I think each one since has been an improvement. a step forward in the skill of story telling.  So it isn't the best book out there.  I hope one day, someone will call it an early Gibbs, the one to read to get a sense of where I started. Where one can "just drop in to see what condition my condition was in."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday prompt

Frequently description starts wide then slowly narrows down.  In this prompt, start narrow, as tight into an object as you can; then move out, not just on the image but on the crux of the story as well. 

My example: The ridged metal round, a green stripe accenting it, was crimped tightly to the multi-flattened sides of the yellow painted wood length, the soft pink and black-stained eraser at one end a contrast to the sharp point of lead at the other.  The nearly new pencil lay in crystal sands, the rounded edge of a footprint holding it partially elevated and at an angle just so that it appeared to be an arrow pointing out the glimmering edge of a gold watch's dialed face peaking up where the big toe of a dainty foot had pressed.  And Gina would remember that gesture of coincidence as the beginning, the glimmer of melting ice, in a very cold case.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How I made my book trailer

I thought that since I just finished  the improved version of my book trailer, that I should talk about what I used to put it together.  The main programs (Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere) should be no surprise.  The pictures were standard digital images I took with a simple digital camera.  I opened them up in Photoshop and worked them into what I wanted for the video.  My nerg box is actually a picture I modified of a large safe.  There are no real nerg box prototypes for me to take pictures of, so the safe was a great replacement.  Another picture I took, which was of a wooded area with a path, was also easy to modify in Photoshop.  The path actually led up to a lake shore, but that is not an image needed for my book. I erased the unnecessary water feature which worked out nicely in the video.

I then used Adobe's Premiere Pro video software to set up my video.  I uploaded it to my list of media the pictures I had modified, and some animated backdrops and royalty free music (I'll mention those sources later in this blog).  From that point on it was just a matter of entering titling, video and audio transitions, though I did have to modify one of my animated backdrops. It was actually blue, but I wanted to have a  pale white, rather murky movement going on in the background because my character travels in time, and the process takes him through a place between future and past that is rather like a bright foggy day where nothing is clearly visible.  This modification was not hard to do. Using a feature called fast color corrector under video effects, I was able to remove the blue tint and raise the intensity of the brightness.  Dropping in my media by layers and resizing a few pictures was the last of the easy parts.  Preparing the titling was the most challenging.  I had to come up with what I wanted my viewer to read, but also select text size, placement, font, animation and color.  I worked on titling the most because I wasn't sure what sizes and fonts would support my story, and I didn't want them to upstage it either.  My most important tool ended up being my daughter.   After awhile I would get too immersed in the process and just couldn't step back far enough to get it an unbiased look.  I would have her watch and tell me what she thought needed more visual work, and then I would go at it again.

My source for the music and animated backdrops was Digital Juice. A person can find all sorts of useful items at their site, from backdrops to motion design elements, such as snow falling, frames, and revealers. They are priced reasonably and well done. They also have music useful for every genre imaginable.  The packages include some with variety and well as music under a single genre. So you could order music that is space age in style, country, jazz or inspiring, etc.   What makes the music selections so great is that they are provided in various lengths that usually run in 15 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute and full length (anywhere from three minutes to a bit over four). Having the different lengths already cut to fit make selecting music easier, though selecting the piece for the mood I wanted definitely took time.  I ended up choosing four or five, dropping them into my media list and trying each one out with the visuals I had laid out out on the timeline in Premiere.

Now I had all this available to me because my husband and I had been involved in videography for a few years, and we kept our equipment and software after we got out of the business.  I won't say that authors need to purchase all these items to make a good trailer, but if you think you are going to be making several trailers over time, these particular software programs and animations do offer advantages.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday prompt

How about a miracle?  What if Sally just found herself knee deep in an overflowing toilet while the dog is barking crazily at something and is on the verge of being winded.  In ten minutes a young couple will be coming by to see her house, which she needs to sell in record time. What miracle would save her?  When she answers the door, she finds the young couple waiting, the husband dressed in a local plumbing company's uniform.  That's a miracle, but what is that dog still barking about?

Jump off from this scenario or imagine your own troubles a-coming and the character needs a miracle setup.   Then come up with the miraculous happening that is going to fix the immediate problem but still leave the character with other things to take care of.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Those darn book trailers

I have been working on making a book trailer for my novel In Times Passed. This has not been an easy process. I have pretty much everything I need to produce one except a clear idea of how to put across just the right amount of information to create interest in buying the book and understanding of what the novel is about. I have received some feedback from other writers/readers/trailer viewers/etc. at Goodreads, and this has been helpful.  But again it comes down to me making the necessary changes. I posted my first version on YouTube, at Smashwords on my book page, at Goodreads on my author page and for a short time on this blog.

After considering editing my trailer, I sat down and wrote out the book's plot in the simplest terms. I thought that this would help me get an idea of what is essential and what I need to leave out. Definitely helped to use the most basic of tools: the plot line.

So I ended up with this brief draft:  
It's the year 2275 and Brent Garrett has been living off privilege for more than 24 years; however, recently it's been leaving him dissatisfied.  But it is hard to complain.  

Raised at Meredith Complex, he knows he is expected to add to his orderly and secluded society.  He has yet to contribute anything.  Then he receives a prototype Nerg box and modifies it on a whim with startling results.  Now he has a time machine.  With a means to leave his frustrations behind (or is it ahead of him?), he travels back in time to 1979, part impulse and part destiny.  He meets Miranda Jenkins who offers him a new life, one he'll have to work for. And it's satisfying.  

Living the life of the common man has its benefits and its flaws.  Some flaws can shred a heart. For a man with time at his fingertips, running away is a tempting option.  

So that is where I am now. I think I have the text.  Next I have to work on the video.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday fiction prompt

Write in first person about the beginning of history for a species.  Find the voice of the tribe's oral historian and have him or her share the tribe's beginnings to either a formal or informal audience. Focus on establishing a voice for the speaker and putting across the mythology the group reveres.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When I can't sleep, I read. When I read, I can sleep.

I love to read.  I can do it anywhere.  Long ago,when my parents would get into an argument, I would pick up a book and start reading. The sound of them would just disappear.  I would dive into the story, think about the characters and what was happening to them, or read a really great line over and over, twisting it about with thought-filled hands to examine it from all angles.  Hours would pass, and I would close the book to find I was so hungry I was nauseous. I had left the place behind while I read, a transcendentalist, my body snugged into a chair that looked out over my neighbor's driveway, my mind in some other space.

Reading was essential. In many ways, it is still the same kind of essential it was when I was a child and later a teenager.  If I cannot sleep, which happens fairly often, all I need do is pick up a book.  Maybe I can't sleep because I am thinking too much, lesson planning or planning a field trip or going over a conversation that just won't quit my mind. Whatever it is that is keeping me awake disappears when I read.  It is as if my mind narrows to just this one thing, the story I am reading.  It fills the space between my ears.  Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes later, I can turn off my Sony reader, roll over and shortly I am asleep. When I read, I throw everything out and leave room only for the story.  I don't actively examine the details; I take them in, spread  them out for reflection.  It is a leisurely flow of reading and understanding, putting things together without effort.  When I put the book down, that meditative flow stays and rolls me right into sleep.

If I didn't read, I would remain awake for hours.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday weekly prompt

Remember a childhood friend or enemy. What stood out as a trait unique to that child?  Consider what has become of him or her based on that trait remaining true.  I had a friend named Marsha for a short time in second grade.  I say short because she did not let any of her friends have other friends.  So I might imagine that she is busy now running the adult lives of her children since she probably lost her husband when he could not stand being smothered any longer.  Or perhaps she translated her controlling ways into a successful Wall Street business but is now charged with insider trading.  Pick someone you did not maintain contact with and haven't heard about -- that way you have plenty of room for imagining.  You might want to change names for your character if you plan on publishing when you are done.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Writing is like driving a truck a little too big for me

My husband and I used to own an old red, full-size Dodge truck. I drove it quite a bit, and being a small woman, it always made me feel as though I was doing something unusual.  I would see my petite hands wrapped around the over-sized steering wheel, surprisingly slender, the flat bench seat seeming to push back at my hundred pounds of weight.  The steering had a constant jiggle from side to side in my hands. At first I tried to hold it steady but overtime I got comfortable enough to trust the truck to steer straight even if the wheel I held seemed to be shifting back and forth; it had play in it.  My arms would just relax into the movement.

Writing is like that.  It has wiggle room in a story when I am drafting, and I will feel at first that the story is drifting in and out of the center it should be in.  I slow down, hold tighter, end up over correcting, and the driving of the story is not enjoyable.  As I become more involved with its inhabitants, my grip loosens. I begin to trust the story to keep the road on its own, and the tremendous view out the window gets much more of my attention, not those quick glances that are punctuated by far more intense visuals of the speedometer, gas gauge and temperature indicator. 

When I have gained trust in the story, it doesn't get easier to write, any more than that truck got easier for me to push the pedal down or steer around corners, but the writing does feel more like it has a good reason to be coming into existence; there is purpose to it, place, time, people and growth.  So every story seems a little too big for me, a little unwieldy, but in time, I gain the finesse and ease of moving along the track of the story's way.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday prompt 2

Think about a book or story you have read that made a strong impression on you. Select one of the secondary characters and imagine their point-of-view of what happened.  Now write their story.

This is nothing new. John Gardner did it in Grendel (based on Beowulf) and Rhys's also voiced other characters in Wide Sargasso Sea (a before Jane Eyre interpretation).  So give it a go.  What would another character say about how things went and why?  Give it a week's effort. See you next Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Drawing pictures with a blinking cursor

I have always viewed writing as a way to create moving pictures in a person's mind. Sometimes the movement is just the steady closing in on the moment of discovery when everything is crystal clear, intense, sharp to the senses.  Other times the view is like the image made by a really fine film camera where everything in the background is slightly blurred and only a single impression is cast in sharp relief to the mind's understanding. I love building those images.

Yesterday I was working on my story having set aside a few minutes.  I had been writing intently working on a particular scene.  The time seemed to have been endless, and I had stopped to back up and view what I had written.  Silly, but I highlighted the new text to check word count, a bit over 500 words.  Disgusted, I set to again to refine the images and dialogue to make it feel bright, deep and authentic.  Even now my mind still keeps running back to the little scene, noting that I had kept the view small, never moving out to create a sense of place, a feel for the desert, the loneliness and the irony of feeling chilled in the intense burning heat of a too hot planet.

Friday or maybe Saturday, I'll bend over that scene again, work on the distanced view, come in close again and finally find that something of what I had hoped to have wrought was on the screen tapped by the steady rhythm of the cursor blinking.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The first weekly prompt

So I thought I would combine a little of my teacher stuff with my writer stuff.  Every Tuesday I am going to post a prompt for creative writers to respond to. The idea is to write on the prompt idea for a full week. Then start on the next one.

Prompt:  If you have read the book To Kill a Mockingbird, you will recall the situation I am about to describe.  If not, I think I have enough here to make the event clear.

Remember when Atticus was just trying to make Mayella Ewell comfortable in court, and the girl became quite angry because she felt he was insulting her by calling her Miss Mayella?  She was certain he was making fun of her because no one ever called her Miss Mayella, and she told the judge she was not going to answer any more questions because he was treating her badly. The judge tried to tell Mayella that this was just Atticus Finch's way, that he was not making fun of her but was being respectful. She wasn't buying it.

Your prompt is to write about a kindness misread.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Acts of One Person Could Help the Economy

I have always firmly believed that the acts of one person can represent many and can also lead to similar acts.  I recently heard of an individual who worked to build his house entirely of U.S. made products, from nails to wood to windows.  As a result, he proved that one can build a quality and cost effective (the cost was only 1% over what it would have been had he used "cheaper" foreign made materials) home.  In fact, according to the actions of those who worked to emulate him, the all U.S. product home was of superior quality to the standard currently followed by those trying to save money and make a profit.  Find it here:

Just one percent of cost, but a hundred percent of effect to our economy (and increased quality of result): I was flabbergasted and feel certain that there lies our road to recovery.  If every contractor (private or commercial) chose this same process and looked at it as an investment, a small drop in profit to raise our country's economy, what a change they could bring.  And if other companies and individuals followed similar acts of investment, accepting the small cost it would otherwise have been, what effect would we have on our American economy?

If we are a world economy, would not our becoming stabilized lead to other countries stabilizing their own economies.  The acts of one person can lead to many in similar acts. Let's not leave our country in the hands of talking heads.  Let's lead it ourselves out of this economic valley.  Thank you,  Anders Lewendal of Bozeman, Montana.

So this had little to nothing to do with writing, but somewhere the idea is percolating.  One person, one percent, over time, can bring about positive change.  Not a bad story idea, not a bad way to run one's life in general.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Nifty little mind mapping program

As promised, this post is about a mind mapping program I downloaded onto my iPhone.  It is called Simplemind and is user-friendly and versatile.  I wanted something like Freemind, but for my phone for when I am away from my computer but want to map out an idea for a story, lesson plan or even organize my directory of teacher files which has gotten a bit cumbersome over the years.  I upgraded it from the free version and gained nice features, such as making folders for separate categories of maps. So my Student of Jump series maps are separate from my school stuff and my daughter stuff.

Because it is set up for the iPhone, it responds to finger action in a way I wish Freemind did, closing up sections and easy sliding whole sections about, or moving a set of ideas from one topic bubble to another if I decide I want a plot event to occur later or earlier than I originally planned.  (There are a lot of features it doesn't have that Freemind does, which is why it won't be replacing Freemind.) Of course, if the map is big, then it gets difficult to see on a small screen; however, the real point was to have access to this type of program when away from a large screen, which is why I like a second important feature it has: I can email myself a pdf version of the map.  I can also save it to an online web holding site for retrieval.

Since I just started the app to make sure I had my info correct, I have learned that it does come in a desktop version that apparently is governed by the phone app.  A link is created through a password and then one can exchange maps and edit in either location via a wifi connection.  Hmmm, that sounds promising, but appears to be a little more complicated on the purchase than I am ready to go, especially since Freemind meets my needs.   As for use on the phone, while away from a handy computer, it is great.  I sat in a field watching my husband mow down weeds, and I was able to outline a book.  Very handy.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I write time travel stories

I like time travel stories because the character that travels in time still has to deal with who he or she is.  In my first novel of the series I am writing, the main character Brent Garrett is impulsive and tends to do what is immediately important to him.  That impulsiveness sets in motion a series of actions that ultimately send him back in time 200 years. But he takes that impulsiveness with him.  Though it is not a fatal flaw, it is a flaw which effects everything he does.  That is what I like about a time travel story, I can work with those distinct qualities of character.  There can be growth and change, epiphany and conflict as the character either becomes aware of that innate flaw or responds to the results of it by adjusting how he or she reacts. In the first book, In Times Passed, Garrett does not come to understand that he is the reason behind his actions, but he does work to make his reactions more productive. (And he does actually come face to face with the person responsible for his troubles, hee, hee). As the series progresses, he does mature, though he is not the main character of each book as different individuals take on the role at center stage.  Students of Jump 1 (In Times Passed) and 2 (No Time Like the Present) are largely focused on Brent Garrett. The second book does contain a different main character, Garrett's daughter.  She too travels in time and carries her own baggage, initially created by the actions of her father but sustained by her own.

I also enjoy humor, especially in the bantering between characters, and that is a key element in my writing in this series.  People (and for fiction: characters) who truly care about each other have the ability to use language in such a manner that it tips ideas, memory and experience, a repertoire per say of the links between two people, that make for dialogue that shows depth and connection.  I enjoy building characters that connect tightly with other characters and seem to enjoy each other's company.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I couldn't sleep, so I got up & blogged

So I crawled into bed, prepared to settle in quietly and not wake my husband.  I shut my eyes and then they opened again. I did not post my Wednesday post.  So I roll off the bed, body lengthwise, (learned that trick while very pregnant; it doesn't shake the bed at all) and out the door of that dark, quiet, cozy room.  I am now downstairs working on this post.

To my surprise, my blog was actually viewed today, twice.  Little ghost feet came and went.  I don't know whether to jump up and down or wonder how the accident happened, and lightening struck twice or it was more along the lines of a vortex and one person was sucked in twice.  A friend and I went driving to Portland, Oregon, once, can't remember why, but I recall we became very lost, and I took over navigating using a Portland map. Even so, we went by the same dark, lonely building on a one-way street at least three times.  Part of me is certain someone didn't read the Google blurb right on their search list or hit the mouse accidentally sending them here, twice even.  Hope it didn't have that same dark and lonely look as the street we tumbled into and giggled nervously about realizing it wasn't the best part of town and 11 PM was probably not the safest time to visit either.  Oh, let's look positively.  Two people intentionally visited my blog, looked around, nodded sagely and left closing the door gently. 

It has been an interesting journey this getting my book epublished. Essentially, I am a shy person.  I don't roust about grabbing people's attention; I am not hiding in the corner either, but I do tend to be the second person to say hello, not the first, so this whole get out there and make yourself known deal is just not my costume (yes costume, not custom, though it is not that either.  I just meant I can't put on that kind of appearance).  I know about persona, not the writing one (well that too, but that is not what I am referring to), the one a person creates to cover up the real individual underneath. Not easy being a teacher when shyness is the natural tendency. I just slip on that teacherly persona and teach.  But what is a writer's persona?  Or rather this writer's persona.  I know my teacherly one is unique to me, so what should this writer's one be?  I guess I'll just have to wait until it grows on.

Some aspect of this has to do with writing; I am certain of it.  Well, it is Wednesday and I couldn't sleep because I blog on this day each week, and I hate feeling guilty when I miss it.  Next week I am going to write about a lovely little app I found for my iPhone that is great for mapping out a story when I am away from my computer.  How's that for suspense?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A moment to develop character (no, not my own)

pen and paper
Yes, I missed my Wednesday blog alright.  Teacher, school, homecoming/spirit week/end of term grading: these are my excuses.  I missed my blog and didn't even notice. But I also missed writing further on my current short story and that I noticed constantly. I managed to ease an hour out of my mad grading schedule one day, but it was not enough.  In my Creative Writing class, I even made my self sit and work on the same exercise my students were working on.  Well, "made" is probably not the right verb.  It was more along the lines of excused myself from moving about the room and reading over their shoulders or grabbing a quick moment of grading while they tried to find the words to explain how their characters would react under certain given situations. So I sat and did the same, then stuffed it in a safe place on my desk and turned back to teaching.  So maybe five minutes eked out just for my story.  I just spent three solid hours grading a stack of work and am rewarding myself with sitting here and typing on this blog. After this, I am going to work again on my story, a science fiction wrapped about a boy who was released (a requirement for three-year-old boys) to be a scrapper, i.e., an apprentice teamster on a desert planet. 

I now know the following things about one of the characters after sneaking that five-minute opportunity:
  • he's 44 and a truck stop owner who wishes his wife and son were still alive
  • he would laugh - thinking about what his wife would say when supplies run short
  • afraid - that he might start to care for someone else
  • angry - thinking that someone else may also have been important to his wife
  • ashamed - that he has not lived up to the promise he made to his wife before she died
  • tender - the leap that occurs in his consciousness that this child they took in values his wife as much as he did and that honors her
Some of this may make it in to the story, but mostly it helped me get some depth on a character that is important to what happens to the boy he is giving shelter to at the request of his now deceased wife.

So off to writing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I started reading about improving my writing, and then I started doing

I downloaded an ebook this summer called 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes.  As I started reading it, I thought is was far too basic for me. After all, I teach creative writing.  Wouldn't I know the basics?  But I kept reading it, and then I found myself applying the ideas mentioned in this book to the book I was redrafting for its final version.  And the more I thought about what each short chapter was referring to, the more I realized it didn't need to give me the examples I was griping about not being there.  If I am a writer, I should be able to apply the advice to my writing and see examples in putting each suggestion into practice.  Really it is a book that gives brief insights in to writing without taking up a lot of my time, which I should be using writing.

Chapter 1 is about not starting, which explains why it is called "Not Starting."  I remember reading and thinking:  Yeah, exactly, like I don't know that to be a writer I must at least put pen to page or keyboard to word processing program.  But we all need a kick in the pants, and we all need the rather trite but accurate advice that we must simply sit down and write.  But I also realized there were several other things I wasn't starting. I wasn't looking into publishing my book which I told myself I was determined to publish. I had short stories hanging about unfinished, oodles of poetry and four unedited books.  I was not active at all on the internet even Goodreads and I read plenty.  So even Chapter 1, "Not Starting" applied to me.  So the chapters are short, a page, maybe a page and a half, but each offers some simple but essential piece of advice.  In the end, I started.  Not much has happened past my publishing my book, participating in Goodreads, starting this blog and seeing what is going on out there in the reading world.  But I did start and I am continuing as well.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I would say it is the balancing that has me the most overwhelmed.

Scenes scurry about in my mind.  I am ready to sit down and write, but I cannot.  There is grading to do and house cleaning and time to respond to a child's needs and a husband's desire to chat and then of course this blog. So when do I write?  I tell myself that this urge to write that is thwarted continuously will just serve to drive my writing more furiously. Bottling it up will give it plenty of time to ferment.  I remember when I was in grade school, the teacher got us involved in a project on how water moved from the surface during a rain to the water table below.  We were to determine if our region had the right qualities to clean the water of contaminants as it moved down through the soil and thus produce good drinking water. The word "percolation" stuck always with me. And even then I imagined my ideas for stories were busy percolating through the soil and rocks of my mind, purifying and distilling the best of what would ultimately end in a story.  I suppose every little thing that my ideas must stumble through or be delayed by must be improving on the overall result, making it more readable.  That is what keeps me sitting here writing this blog knowing that the next thing I will have to do is grade and then go to bed because it will then be much too late to write if I want to function well at my work in the morning.  Aw, weekend will you give me time to write?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I can hear you breathing...

magnifying the audience
So here I am writing to an empty theater.  Not certain what I will do when people are actually reading this blog.  Hopefully, this will not be the first post they see.  In any case, I sit here writing and thinking about the ghost audience sitting out there.  I see one lady out front, arms akimbo across her chest, her mind clicking away at my various attributes as a writer, and she is considering if she got up and walked out if anybody would notice. There is another lady further up the aisle and off to the left who is listening impartially and gradually giving me some credit for good spelling and punctuation.  I look further and see the place is fairly full, but most of the members seated are rather blurry. I am tempted to tip my glasses off my nose and see if they come in clearer.  This is only a temptation. If they were clearer, this would mean they are way too close and much too tiny as I wear glasses for distance not reading.  A frightening thought to have an audience that tiny.  Makes not having one at all not such a disappointing thing.

So how does one build up an audience?  I am reading suggestions on this very issue and considering some of them. Some I have already done.  This blog is one example, my Goodreads account another.  I read other blogs, but so far have not participated in any. Well, that is not quite true.  I read one blog on which I felt good about posting a comment of my own.  So I wrote my little comment, checked its spelling and other qualities wanting to be properly dressed for my debut post and then sent it on its way.  I glanced up to the top of the blog wondering if anyone would comment on my comment. That's when I realized the post I had read and found so intriguing was two years old.  Would the blog owner even notice?  And if he did, would he laugh.  "Silly poster, that conversation is way out of date."

Well, I just heard someone chuckle way in the back.  Not sure they thought my story was humorous, but at least they felt relaxed enough to enjoy themselves. So my phantom audience, adieu for now.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Developing a foil character in yWriter5

One of the bonuses that came out of finding yWriter5 (link in the Favorite Sites column to the top right) and then using it to develop my book, In Times Passed, was that as I entered some information into the program about the various characters present in my book, I got to know them better and developed them further. One character I had given little thought to but was using as one of the main reasons that my protagonist, Brent Garrett, was so unable to find direction and thus was the type to leap without looking began to take shape.  Much of what I learned about her, Vivian (maiden name still undecided) his mother, would not be used in the book, but I realized she was not a character to look over at all.  A new scene developed that showed at least a portion of the relationship she has with her son and how she has effected him directly and indirectly whether intentionally or not.

The second book in the series, No-time Like the Present, when roughed out had no mention of her at all. But after a stint in yWriter5, and my understanding of Vivian's motivations, possible intentions (she has yet to reveal to me how much of what she does is intentional, good fortunate busybodying and the effects of someone else's possible instigation) growing with the first book's finish, she now plays a role in the second book and her underlying machinations become more interesting.  As I work through the series, I suspect that Vivian will call for a book of her own, perhaps to defend herself and all that seems to get laid at her door.   

So my point is, yWriter5 or anything that makes you have to supply detail or defend traits and motivations, can lead to a foil character getting unexpected dimension and even the opportunity to rise as a main character in a later work.

Now that I think about it, it was in having to write down the motivations, obvious and underlying, that caused Brent to make the choices he did, that forced me to look into Vivian's involvement more and then develop her further.

Sorry about this not going in on Wednesday, my weekly blog day.  I promised myself and my nonexistent readers I would blog weekly and apparently failed in my third week.  I love teaching, but it is time consuming.  But I plan to work this habit into my life, come what may.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Exercise and inspiration

Usually when I am working on a story, I find a quiet place to relax and see what comes to mind.  But lately, since I started jogging on a treadmill, I have found that running along thinking about the story currently at hand will lead to inspiration.  Just yesterday I was running along, and a story I am working on, titled "Scrapper," came to mind. And though I knew what was happening next, it was the ending that caught my interest. As I worked it out in my mind, watching the scene play out, motives for different character actions developed and other scenes not yet written filled out with details.  By the time I was off the treadmill, a mere twenty-three minutes later, I had three key scenes bubbling over.  I sat and wrote more than 3000 words.  So my story has a well advanced beginning and a near complete ending.  I am looking forward to tomorrow's run and the middle taking shape, while I am taking shape, too.

So for me, exercise and inspiration seemed to be a well-linked pair.  Writing could be the healthiest thing I do.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

For users of WordPerfect who want to publish on Smashwords

Since this is my first time having a blog, I have decided that Wednesday will be my scheduled blog day.  I still may enter other posts, but once a week I will definitely post.  Since writing is my focus for this blog, my posts on Wednesday will always relate to publishing and improving writing. is where I published my book, In Times Passed, and one thing that was very much emphasized in the formatting of a book to ready it for the meatgrinder (the program that turns the uploaded manuscript into several varieties of ebook format) is that it must be in Word, preferably 2003 or 2007 versions.  I have a preference for WordPerfect (WP), though I use Word at work.  All my writing is in wpd format.  So for those writers with the same preference as I, I wanted to share how easy it was to make the final preparation on the document that would be uploaded, while still using WP for the original document.  The writer does have to have Word for the final step, though. 

I completed my book in WP as well as put it through a final content edit.  Then following the Smashwords' guide for publication formatting, I used the recommended "nuclear method." The name sounds terrible, but the process truly is the easiest way to strip out WP formatting.  I used the select all menu choice in Edit, copied, and then pasted it into Notepad.  I saved the text in Notepad format.  Since I have the programs on separate computers, I used a flashdrive to transfer the new Notepad document to my laptop which has Word on it.  I then opened Notepad on the laptop, selected, copied and pasted it into a new Word document.  From there on, I followed the Smashwords' guide on preparing the program to avoid it inserting formatting, and then I followed remaining instructions for fonts, chapter headings, scene breaks, styles, etc.

I put my book through one more final edit using a strategy I always tell my students.  I worked from the end of the document, sentence by sentence back to the beginning. This keeps me from falling into the story and losing track of the fact that I am looking for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.  Other things catch my attention that way, too.  If I ask myself, "Who said that?"  I recheck the dialogue and make sure it is clear who is speaking as I don't always use tags.  Ultimately, I did go through the document with a close eye for formatting codes that were not allowed.  The guide is very clear about how to do this and what to look for, so I leave any writers reading this to read it.  My main point here is feel free to use WordPerfect when creating your work, as a quick trip through Notepad clears away any formatting which could have turned the whole endeavor into a nightmare.  As it was, I had no format errors to correct after the upload and made it into the Premium Catalog without issue the first time.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

yWriter software is a tool worth downloading

When I decided in the spring of this year to go through my books gathering digital mothballs, I knew I was going to have to find a way to visualize the plot better than I had in the past.  I tried to think of ways to use my word processing software but could not think of anything that wouldn't be more trouble than it was worth. I searched my iphone for an app already existing but found nothing.  I searched for writing software and found a few, but they were spendy.  I decided to look and see what writers were saying about such software.  And that's is when I learned about yWriter by Spacejock Software.

I don't want this to sound like a paid ad, so let me just say, breaking my story into scenes and taking the time to enter the goals, conflict and outcome (for plot) helped me ensure there was purpose for each scene and know how each scene drove the story forward.  There is much more to the software, and most of what it offers has greatly improved my redrafting for content as well as time invested.  The writer can decide what she wants to use and to what extent she wants to use.  And it's free but well worth showing gratitude by voluntarily sending in a monetary pat on the back to the developer.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Today I published my first ebook

I got sidetracked by blogging, and I think I let it happen on purpose. Today I uploaded my first book (In Times Passed) to Smashwords.  It was one of the most exciting things I have ever done.  Researching blogging let me settle into the fact that my book was now available.  I have been redrafting it for the last three months with a deadline date I set for August.  I beat that deadline by one day.

I searched for where to publish my ebook, and though I considered B&N and Kindle at Amazon, when I tripped over a reference to Smashwords and checked it out, I felt that I had arrived home.  Each step was scary but easy, as Mark Coker at Smashwords makes it easy.  When I downloaded my book onto my iPhone and flipped through the pages....euphoria.  I ran and showed my daughter, flipping the title page into view, then the table of contents and a few pages of the first chapter.  She said I looked scary and a little weird.  I think I am going to go see if I still look weird to her.

It only took an hour.

I decided to go ahead and dive into blogging.  I had no idea how to go about it, so with Robert Lee Brewer's post on writers and when they should start blogging under my belt, I proceeded to run in circles on the site for awhile, an hour maybe. I am not certain of the time, but when I last looked at the clock at the bottom of my screen it was after 1:00 pm and now it is after 5:00 pm.  I hope it was just an hour.  I spent a lot of time reading blog responses to his post and looking at stuff to get oriented.  I am a writer, a closet writer who just opened the door.  Boy, it's really big out here.  I think I will just gaze for awhile.