Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Living with a Writer

Since I'm still "technically" recovering from surgery, I'm not supposed to take long trips, particularly driving long distances. I have precautions I'm supposed to follow. So when I started to panic about driving three and a half hours to Writer's Police Academy, my Dear Husband offered to take me. We made a stop halfway to visit One Young Son, which gave me the opportunity to get out of the car and stretch my legs. I have to admit, I was glad not to have to drive that distance. While I traveled well, the doctors know what they're talking about.

While we were on the road, I started brainstorming with The Big Guy. Trying to work through plot points in Epitaph 2, my husband has an area of expertise that is relevant. Unfortunately, he doesn't always understand how a writer's brain is wired. I'd ask a general question, and he, being an engineer, wants specifics and parameters. If I knew the specifics, I wouldn't have to ask! He doesn't always follow my train of thought or my path to logic. So I started laying out the characterization and the plot, which helped somewhat, but when I started to venture into the "woo-woo" parts, I lost him. This does not compute. He shot me a startled and confused look with the unspoken, "What??"

What can I say? My only explanation for him is that's how my brain is wired. I'm a writer. I get to have an imagination!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Writer's Police Academy

This past weekend, I joined a couple hundred fellow writers at the Writer's Police Academy. It's an awesome opportunity for authors to get in the trenches with policeman and firemen and EMTs to find out how things work and ask dozens of questions. We go to the school where they are trained and the fun part is that we get involved in real-life scenarios.

When we arrived at the Tech the first day, it was to the scene of an accident. Someone was lying on the hood of a car after going through the windshield and other passengers were trapped inside the car. Once we'd all arrived on the scene, the police drove in, lights flashing and sirens blaring, along with firetrucks and ambulances. They demonstrated (very realistically!) how they triage the victims, including putting one of the drivers through a sobriety test (which she failed). A flight for life helicopter joined the scene and transported the most seriously injured person, while they declared the man on the hood of the car a potential fatality (he can't be declared dead until the coroner arrives). Except the guy on the hood kept turning his head (I'm sure he was uncomfortable!) When the scenario ended, the "dead guy" hopped off the hood to a rousing round of applause. Then the questions commenced. Details the authors wanted or had missed. And the weekend continued from there. Lots of hands-on stuff, lots of demonstration stuff, more live-action scenarios. SO SO helpful for authors, and a lot of fun. One of my classes was specifically designed to help you kill off your characters using poison. Had several police officers look at us in our classes and say things like "you're making me nervous!" with the scenarios the authors presented.

Back to the daily grind again this week and working on the next in the Epitaph series. The funny part? I have more ways to kill off characters than I'd ever imagined before, thanks to the Writer's Police Academy.

That is kind of scary!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Back to normal?

I started back to the day job last week after six weeks recuperating. During my time off, I developed some new habits (read "better" habits), but it is interesting to see how much the day job affects my behavior. I plan to maintain those new habits as much as I can. I have also re-established some of the old habits, one of which is reading on the train ride into the Big City.

So what did I do with my time off? I finished Epitaph and sent it off to the publisher who'd requested the full MS to review. I also interviewed people for characterizations and information I want to include in the next book. It was nice to have "all the time in the world" to write, but with all that time, I also found a lot more diversions. So one of the old habits that I'm happy to get back into is focused writing time. Knowing I have to finish a project motivates me to concentrate during my allotted time and budget certain times of the day for other distractions (like, say, work?).

As I retrain my brain to return to a set schedule, I've started work on the second in the Epitaph Series. Epitaph is a ghost story, and the second will also contain a decidedly supernatural element. Thanks to my experiences while I've been laid up, I have a strong starting point, with fun characters. I know what supernatural element I'm including (and the hint for today is "inosculation"). The immediate goal is how to tie all this together into a compelling story. There is a strong suspense element in Epitaph along with the inevitable romance, and I 'm working on finding more suspense in the next book. I've got a five thousand word start, but I'm still in the discovery phase. Starting a new story is always exciting! This one hearkens back to "You've Got Mail" or "Pillow Talk" (those are old movies in case you aren't familiar), but not as "fluffy."

And speaking of exciting, I'll be attending Writer's Police Academy in Green Bay, which should provide lots of fodder for the third book in the Epitaph series with a policeman as a hero, and quite possibly help with this current book once my plot starts to gel.

What do you do when you have time off?

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fitbit - helpful or POS?

About a year ago I jumped on the Fitbit bandwagon. I got it with "free" money, so I figured I wasn't losing anything by getting it. For me, the goal was to make sure I was still moving. I was encountering some physical limitations that halted my regular exercise program, so walking became more important. After a couple of months, I was able to judge where my pain point was. How many steps could I walk before the pain kicked in?

I have a Fitbit HR. I've heard from some of my friends that their model (not the HR) is great and they have no problems with it, but I have repeatedly had sync issues with mine. I'd go a couple of days unable to sync to ANY device, and then the techno gods would wave their magic wands and all would be well with the world again. At one point, I went a week without being able to sync, and that's when I called customer support. They walked me through all the help steps which I'd already done ad nauseum via their online guidance, and they finally decided that yep, my wristband just wasn't working. So they sent me a new one. Okay. That made me feel better.

Until I got the new wristband.

Within the first week, I couldn't sync the new Fitbit. So I exercised some patience and went through the same routine. Some days it syncs, some days it won't. I've recently undergone surgery to correct my physical limitations, and while I'm rebuilding strength, it was nice to be able to measure my progress, back to where I was pre-surgery and looking forward to finally making the coveted 10k steps a day (I did that once in the whole time I've had this cursed thing). Except now the wristband won't sync. Again. At all.

How much do I really want to know how many steps I walk each day? It was handy for recording exercise sessions and syncing those with my food app, but in the grand scheme of things, I've declared this tool a POS. It's often awkward to wear, and for something that works, at best, sporadically, I'm done. Maybe one of the other models would be a better option, but I've done my part in jumping on the fad bandwagon.

Do you have a Fitbit? (or other motion inducing/measuring device?)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Lazy Days of Summer

Wow. Can you believe July is almost over? Summer is nearing an end already. A few short weeks ago, we were looking forward to the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and I was starting my "sabbatical." Well, the sabbatical is over after this week. Back to life as usual. During my time off, I finished preliminary editing of Epitaph, and the publisher is waiting to read it. I also interviewed some people for the second in the series that Epitaph kicks off, so I'm ready to delve into a new story.

What else did I do during my time off? I read some fun books (and some not so great books). I reconnected with an old friend who is also counting down the end of a leave from work. I've been rebuilding strength and am better than ever! I feel re-energized and I'm looking forward to a writer's conference in Green Bay in a couple of weeks assuming everything continues to go well. (and why wouldn't it?)

Ever have those days where you think everything is going so well, what's the catch? As I look ahead to next week, I can't help but wonder how I'll do upon re-entry. I've established a nice routine during my time off, but now it's time to go back to old routines and hopefully incorporate some of the positive changes I've adopted. One "old" routine I'm looking forward to is reading on the train. That long commute into the city provides prime time for me to catch up on my TBR list.

In case you need to add to your TBR list, +Smashwords is offering a sale through the end of the month--that's the end of this week. Click here to browse titles. Coupons are available at checkout and show beside the price.

So what did you do this summer?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Her name is what???

Closing in on the last of my rewrites and then to put this thing through the meat grinder for overused and unnecessary words. In the meantime, I've been thinking ahead to the next book (see what downtime can do for a body?).

Epitaph will be the first in a new series, and I've already started interviewing people for background information on the second. The anticipation that goes with starting a new book is always exciting, the possibilities, the letting go of my imagination to carry me into new places, but I have to rein it in until I finish the current project. However, I do have a question for you, my readers.

I've created two families that will carry the series forward. One of them is Irish-American, but they bring their names from the old country. Most of those names are fairly standard fare, Kevin, Kathleen, Mary. But I've always had a fondness for the name Siobhan (since Ryan's Hope debuted lo, those many years ago - pronounced shev-AHN). But because it's spelled oddly, there are people who don't know how to pronounce it when they read it. So then I thought about Sinead (pronounced shin-AID). You know, like Sinead O'Connor? But same problem. As a reader, do names like these make you stumble? Do you need a phonetic tip to help you out, like having some random person try to make fun of her by calling her Chevy (along with an explanation)?

When the Harry Potter books first came out, my kids didn't want to read them because the characters had such odd names. I gave them tips for getting past that hurdle, and then they enjoyed the stories, but it can stop a reader dead in their tracks. I remember reading a book when I was a kid with a character named Phoebe. Read the whole book before I figured out how to pronounce it, and yet some people know the names and don't struggle at all. Then there was Laoghaire from Outlander. Even with phonetics, I couldn't figure out how to pronounce that until I saw the series. How do you get that pronunciation from that spelling?

So what do you think? Are you familiar enough with the Irish names to know how to pronounce them? Or would they trip you up? Make you stop reading? (Do I need to find a more "normal" name for my character?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

5 things I do when my first draft is done

Every book I write goes through the wringer. After the first draft is done, I go back through it numerous times to check for grammatical errors, continuity errors, etc. So in case you think you've finished writing once you've gotten through that first run, here's what happens next.

1. Celebrate.
It's done! Drink a toast or go to dinner. Finishing up the story is an accomplishment in and of itself. Lots of people don't get that far.

2. Take a break
Your best bet at making this something good is to provide some distance. Jumping right back into edits will only ensure you're missing the same mistakes you've already made. You become "word blind" to the same misspelled or misused words. You're still so involved in the plot that you miss obvious plot holes.

3. Hunker down and put your editor hat on
My next pass is for continuity and copyediting. Does everything follow? Did a character change his name between page 2 and page 200? Are their names spelled consistently? Are there any time warps? (i.e., it's morning when we are in one POV, but in the next section its the day before or two days later?)

4. READ THE WHOLE THING, start to finish
I do this multiple times, each time looking for different things (reference point 3). Once I'm satisfied that the holes are filled and everything is "right," I read the entire book one more time for all the things I've overlooked, or new mistakes I've made in the copyediting process. You'd be amazed at the number of things that STILL jump out at me, even after I'm sure I got it right "this time."

5. Culling out overused and unnecessary words
With time, I get to the point where I recognize a lot of the "crutch" words and can kill them during the creative process, but they still pop up. (Can I get an amen to the word "still" which I have used too many times in this post?) I have a checklist with words like "just" and "maybe" and distancing verbs like "could see" or "felt." Granted, some of them belong, but the majority of them are superfluous and take away from the reading experience. I save this step for the last, because while I'm copyediting, new unintended occurrences can pop in. Oh, and then I repeat step 4. Any time I edit, there's always the chance I've created new mistakes while correcting existing ones.

This process works with most every book I write. There are exceptions, and those books are generally the ones that either don't make it to the editor (they aren't fit for public consumption - yes, I have a couple tucked into my "even I don't like this one" folder) or ones that I do love, but there's "something missing." The latter requires extra work, extra thought.