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.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stephen King for President

I've been mulling over this week's post ad nauseum. Everything from common courtesy and common sense, to societal changes, to the upcoming election, to Brexit, to yellow journalism, to cyber bullies who voice their opinions on social media rather than in a forum where their opinions might be challenged. I've seen good friends supporting a platform that I am staunchly against and I scratch my head wondering how they got to that point. There is so much misinformation in the media that its hard to find the truth, and that's how bad decisions are made.

Its times like this that make me want to cry out "Stephen King for President!" After all, a man who has written the darkest corners of fiction, the end of the world in The Stand, an alien invasion (or was it?) in Dreamcatchers, and several other apocalyptic scenarios, still gives us hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Dan Brown constructs a scenario of germ warfare. Robert Langdon is staring the end of the world in the face, and only he can solve the puzzle that will save humanity.

Doomsday Scenarios
Authors have the unique requirement to write a worst case scenario and then find a solution for it. Oftentimes, you'll hear them say they had no idea how their characters were going to find their way out of whatever mess they'd been written into. But they always do. Authors are problem solvers. Since we made up the mess, we can make up solutions, or responses that lead to solutions. Wouldn't it be great if we could do that with the problems of the world?

My current work in process deals with police corruption, or rather, one corrupt policeman. They're out there, but they're in the minority. Police have a tough job, and to condemn an entire profession based on a few bad apples is suicide. These guys put their lives on the line for us every single day. As an author, I'm obliged to find a worst case scenario, and so I took a good long look at one of the bad guys. To counterbalance that, the next book in the series will take a look at one of the good guys, but because of THIS book, he has prejudice to overcome, and isn't that what life is about? Taking a look at both sides? Recognizing that not everyone is good, but by the same token, that doesn't make everyone evil?

Wow. Am I on my soapbox again? Oh hey. Then I should start the campaign. Whattya say? Stephen King for president?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Faceless Voices

While I'm laid up (recovery is going quite well, thank you), I have an app from the hospital that reminds me of all the things I should be doing, along with an optional reminder for meds and a notes section. Theoretically, I know someone is reviewing my progress somewhere although it feels a bit like journalling. Who would read my journal? I send them pictures of the wound and status updates.  At my presurgical class, they told me I could keep notes on my progress. Yes, the app says the physician will be reviewing these notes but it also says don't expect them to. Imagine my surprise when I got a message back - not one I could track down or save, mind you - that said the wound looked good, and for the additional pain that came from laying in one position all night (a note I'd recorded), I should keep moving. Except as soon as I saw the notification, it was gone. So I think that's what it said before it disappeared. Its a notification, not a message.

Another day I got a notification that asked how I was moving. Probably a canned notification like "don't forget to check in," except it got me thinking about "You've Got Mail" and Cyrano de Bergerac and anonymous correspondence. Oh, and let's not forget "Sorry, Wrong Number." +Teresa Medeiros wrote a story about Twitter (Goodnight, Tweetheart) along these same lines, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A new take on an old trope (and she actually convinced me to venture into the Twitterverse with that book).

My imagination has been bizarre, my dreams fairly vivid - no doubt attributable to the meds. So when I pictured Fred MacMurray leaving me a letter in a post office box today, I started to giggle. (Yes, I'm making reference to a black and white movie made a million years ago.) One of my critique partners has been stuck on the topic of tropes, and how some are overdone, or just plain shouldn't be done.

Do I think there is a secret admirer on the other side of my app? Oh, heck, no. Likely a nurse monitoring and doing her job. But this brings me back to the inspiration of the day. People ask where I get my story ideas. EVERYWHERE! Sitting in a recliner with my leg up and reporting to an app! Authors are a different breed, doncha know. The story can be a saccharine romance or an edge of your seat thriller like Sorry, Wrong Number. An overused trope? Or one that is thankfully not visited very often?

Maybe a plot for the third book of the new series....

And in case you were wondering what to get me for my birthday (yes, its TODAY!), might I suggest you buy one of my books? Or buy one for a friend. Quick links are over there, at the top of the column to the right. Don't forget to leave a review. Best present an author can get!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Real Life Heroes

I went to the store the other day. A quick lunch time trip to pick a few things up. When I walked back to my car, there was a delivery truck blocking me in. GREAT. As I made my way across the parking lot, I heard someone on a cell phone saying "I think there's a dog in a car." Ok, Summer. Dogs. Hot cars. Someone standing near my car on a cell phone. I don't have a dog. Rounded the car next to mine. No dog in the car. Did someone hit my car?

Nope. There was a man laying on the ground between my car and the one next to mine.

Not a dog.

Poor guy is flat on his back with maybe three people standing over him, one of them on the 911 call.

"Do we need to do something? Is he having a heart attack?" I ask.

"They told us not to touch him," one of the people tells me.

He's breathing. His eyes are open, and I'm thinking the sun is going to blind him. It's a bright day. His eyes roll back. People are talking to him, trying to get a response. He's not talking. One woman asks him to squeeze her hand. Nothing.

One of the people look at me, realize this is MY car we're next to, and says, "you can probably go if you want to." Well I could, if I wasn't going to run this poor man over by moving my car.

The police show up and take over, and then the ambulance. Mr. Man doesn't quite know what's going on, and while they start to move him, he starts to panic.

The police and the EMTs were very professional, calming, going about their job. The rapid manner in which they are able to acquire information is startling. One of the EMTs says this man was at the hospital yesterday, or maybe even today. Just from getting his ID. I'm sure that helps them to understand what happened to him, or at least an idea why this happened.

While I camp out next to my car, because now the delivery van is gone but I'm blocked in by the fire department ambulance AND a fire truck, my five minute trip to the store has become an hour, and I'm getting my Vitamin D fix standing in the sun in the parking lot rather than on the deck at home. And you know what? I don't mind. Let these guys do what they have to do.

When I first found that man lying next to my car, I thought he might be dead, with his eyes open, not moving, flat on the ground. And then you notice he's breathing. THAT's when I started wondering what I could do for him, but thankfully, someone else was already on top of it. Good neighbors who might easily not have seen the poor guy lying in between cars in a parking lot. People who took the extra time to make the call, to stay with him. And finally, the first responders who treated him.

Real life heroes. All of them.

(And people wonder where authors get their ideas)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pet Appreciation Day

My schedule has been a little skewed lately. As a creature of habit, my cat is understandably confused. This "throwaway cat" has been with me for 17 years, and I thought today was a good day to appreciate her.

"Poo-pooh" is still pretty spry for an old lady, with a few exceptions. She's hard of hearing. Have you ever been able to sneak up on a cat? While she's looking for you one direction, if you sneak up behind her to announce yourself, she doesn't hear you... until you create a vibration. Then she turns and jumps two feet in the air because you've startled her. She doesn't have all of her teeth anymore, and she has a hard time grooming herself.

She was rescued from a dumpster and "someone" brought her to me insisting I needed another cat. The resident cat (K.C.) was not amused. However, K.C. assumed the Alpha cat role and took it upon himself to train her, which was mostly good--for us. For Poo-Pooh, not so much. He taught her to be afraid of her own shadow. She hid from visitors and was shy about sitting on family laps if there were more than two people in the room. If you were alone in the room, she was all over you. K.C. was a mischievous big brother, chasing her and then back tracking when she wasn't paying attention. He also had a habit of hiding around corners and then jumping out at her. Such a prankster! And, of course, poor Poo would be so traumatized that she would hide for days. She rarely made a sound, except for her exceptionally loud purring. You could hear her coming from long distances.

When K.C. crossed the rainbow bridge, Poo wasn't quite sure how to handle being an only child, but she adapted quickly. She found her voice and lost a lot of her panic-induced fears. Now she's vocal, calling out for you whenever she doesn't see you. AND she likes company. Whereas she used to run when she heard the doorbell, now she goes to see who's there with me.

Cats are creatures of habit. She follows me most everywhere when I'm home, and when I'm away, she lets me know she's missed me by telling me and sitting right beside me and touching me with her paws. She hasn't lost her "three's a crowd" mentality. We're more likely to have a kitty on our lap if we're home alone, but as an old lady, she isn't as comfortable on laps as she used to be, so she doesn't stay long. Whereas most animals are nervous around small children, Poo is curious. She's cautious, but she wants to see these tiny humans. The first time she saw a baby, she was dumbfounded. "What the heck is that?" Fortunately for us, the tiny humans in our lives are animal friendly. They've grown up with critters, so they don't go running at her and shrieking with glee. They approach her in much the same way as she approaches them.

I never expected this poor, sickly cat rescued from a dumpster to survive, much less for 17 years. She's been a source of entertainment, of affection, and companionship. As I spend the next several weeks recuperating, I know she'll be right beside me cheering me on.