A Wrimo Remembers: Episode 2

Corona typewriter

Last week I began a series about the year I participated in NaNoWrimo. I posted a short excerpt from my blog and the novel I began. I hope that participating writers find inspiration in my brief commentary, and that readers enjoy a peek at the lump of clay before it’s thrown into a beautiful vase. Again, the work is unproofed and unedited. This week, meet Claire, who shares main character duties with Jason.

from “NaNo Update 01”, November 5, 2007

Word count: 2877

mood: committed, slightly tense

Dialog time… not a happy fun time exactly, but necessary. Had a nasty but urgent matter to deal with Friday, and I had to work Saturday. Falling of pace is no fun, but the good news is the story feels like a story and I talk with my characters all day. That is good news, right?

 

from Chapter III

Claire turned the classical station down until the string section blended with the hushed exhaust of her BMW. Tympani softly pounded through the subwoofer. She hummed, tapping her slender fingers against the steering wheel. If it were Saturday she would roll the windows down to feel the still crisp March air. But today, her curly red locks needed to remain in place. Today was her first meeting with Ted Jannock. Jannock was a Republican running for Senator in a tightly contested race. Several years of public relations work and much networking had netted Claire the job of managing Jannock’s campaign. A left leaning moderate, Claire was initially ambivalent about accepting the job. It wasn’t that Jannock was the sort of Bible thumping, rabid conservative she saw swarming the country like locusts. In fact, his stated positions on many hot-button issues illustrated nuances that eluded many of his peers. He was the only Republican candidate who publicly vowed not to vote for any Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. And his time spent lobbying for stricter environmental controls gave him enough buy-in from the emerging earth-friendly crowd to make other candidates more than nervous. But Claire understood that no matter how middle-of-the-road Jannock tried to appear, he would ultimately need the support of many people whose views she personally abhorred.

The swelling crescendo of violins helped still her ragged nerves. She finally accepted the many tense moments to come: meetings with leaders of the state’s prominent religious denominations, pacifying the anti-abortionists, confronting the pro-death penalty crowd. She was outlining her talking points list when she heard a cacaphony she didn’t remember in the concerto. She looked in her mirror and was greeted by four round headlights and a chrome grille. The loud red car swooped in behind her, cutting off a Porsche driver that didn’t want to give way. Claire was accustomed to the city’s occasional muscle car owners who continued to live in the 60’s and 70’s. Despite outrageous gas prices, they continued to blast the streets in their gas-guzzling, hyper-carbon emitting dinosaurs. She considered most of them to be rednecks. They often had a Confederate flag license plate attached to the front of their time machines. The ubiquitous concert tee seemed to be their official attire. They were part of the constituency that she dreaded having to negotiate with to ensure Jannock’s election to the Senate. But to her surprise, the driver of the car now filling her rear-view mirror was black… and in business casual clothing. The apparent contradiction between her expectations and reality unsettled her. Also unsettling was the exhaust note from his car. Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to the road just in time to see a Golden Lab dart in front of her car. She slammed on the brakes and gripped the wheel tighter. Not expecting the brief slide as the anti-lock brakes regained control, she looked in her mirror. The front end of the gleaming red car dipped sharply, and she saw the rear end begin to come around. It was still gaining on her. In that instant, time slowed down another notch, and she instinctively lifted her foot from the brake. Before her foot lost contact with the brake pedal, the jolting thump of her car slamming into the dog made her stomach roll. The lab was knocked clear of her car and onto the shoulder of the road. With some distance between her car and the old automobile behind her, she slowed and pulled off the road.

She exited her car and walked nervously toward the twitching gold and red form. The red classic began to slow down as if its driver intended to stop. Claire watched, getting a better look at the nicely dressed owner. Pecan brown, short hair, mid-30s. Those were the only details she had a chance to take in as the driver downshifted and punched the accelerator. She watched the receding tail lights fade into the bluish grey haze of the highway. Watching the dog die had nearly erased the calm the concerto had filled her with. Shaking, she muttered “I’m sorry” before turning and walking back to her car. Safely back on the road, and with the unxepected carnage behind her, Claire turned the radio off and drove the rest of the way in silence.

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Opposition to Indie Writers & Self-Pub

I’ve followed writing and indie author networks long enough to see several recurring themes. Branding, social media, cover art, professional editing—some days it feels like my Twitter stream is stuck on repeat! Browsing Amazon’s Kindle forum this morning brought these themes into sharp focus when I noticed a thread titled “How to avoid Indie authors”.

The thread’s starter asserts that everyone and their dog has suddenly become an “author,” and every rejected manuscript resurrected as a kindle “book.” In four sentences he describes the scourge of self-published books with a kind of animosity usually associated with racism, religious intolerance, or homophobia. In his perspective, the annoyance of being subjected to below par books is great enough to request that Amazon allow him to filter out all self-published books in his searches. Started less than a month ago, the discussion had 2363 posts when I last looked. As I read through a few pages in the thread, some important themes relating to indies/self-pubs emerged.

  • Quality (or lack of same) in cover art was listed as a “major clue”. One poster noted Indie book artwork and graphics are usually abysmal.
  • Low pricing was mentioned several times as another sign of indie work.
  • Lack of proofreading
  • Lack of “professional” reviews

The thread quickly devolved into the usual internet forum casserole of snark, derision, and accusations. Proposed solutions to the indie problem ranged from limiting book searches to traditional publishers, to making authors pay Amazon to proof their book before allowing it into the Kindle store. I encourage all potentially self-published writers to visit the thread. This may be your audience.

As dreary as this forum is, I believe the indie author/publisher stigma will eventually diminish much like it has for the music industry, where the label seems to have a more positive connotation. Electronic publishing has the potential to accelerate that shift in thinking. But it’s every writer’s responsibility to focus on the two things that will spur that change sooner rather than later: quality and a loyal audience. One last comment from the Amazon forum:

The problem is that for the first time in publishing history, ANYONE can write something and have it published as an e-book.

That’s a good problem to have.

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Bloggers, You Need A Weblog Client

Time organization is important to everyone, but especially to those who share a full-time job with their creative muse. If you blog, it’s typical to create posts within your blog’s admin panel. However, that requires an internet connection. Even with today’s wi-fi saturation, it’s not always possible to go online. For simple posts it’s feasible to draft them in a word processor—even Notepad/TextPad will do. But add formatting, media, and links, and you soon wish for the utility of your admin panel.

Weblog clients offer those features and more. These specialized word processors work with most popular blogging platforms and let you write, format, tag, and schedule future posts without an internet connection. Several clients exist for Windows, Mac, and Linux. I’m writing this in Windows Live Writer. If you decide to try Microsoft’s product, note that it wants to install the entire Live suite (Messenger, Mail, etc.) by default. That isn’t necessary. To avoid it, simply uncheck every other software title on the installation screen.

I hope your choice of weblog client will help you organize your time, and be a more creative and productive writer. Happy blogging!

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A Wrimo Remembers: Episode 1

Corona typewriter
I’m not participating in NaNoWrimo this year, but I did take part a few years ago. I didn’t reach the 50,000 word finish line, but the experience taught me a lot about the perseverance and humility needed to be a writer. In what I hope will be inspirational to Wrimos everywhere, and especially my newly discovered writing friends, I will be re-posting short excerpts from blog posts I wrote while trying to type 50,000 novel-shaped words. I will also post some of the unfinished, barely paragraphed, unproofed, and so very raw book itself. Working titled, My Soul to Find, the story’s about a jaded ad executive who decides to thwart the political campaign of a recently acquired client. Enjoy!

from “Overture, Curtain, Lights”, Oct 31, 2007

Believe in your characters. Believe in their environment. Know that when you stare at a blank screen, the screen is staring back, accusing you. Your only requital is to fill that screen with words. Now, write Wrimos! Write!


from Chapter VIII, (Jason is the main character)

Early March in Preston was beautiful. A rapidly growing city close to North Carolina’s Piedmont, the main roads leading into town were lined with ancient trees. Their boughs stretched into comforting arches that overshadowed the streets. Like many southern towns, Preston’s economy was transitioning from agriculture to technology. It was happening all over the south, but a little bit slower than expected in Preston. While younger residents welcomed the change, many descendants of the town’s original land barons were not happy with the resulting increases in the transplant population. Their rage was not specifically directed toward Yankees, but there was a nearly phobic distrust and intrensic dislike of people who weren’t originally from the surrounding area. And a special disdain still existed for people who came from above the Mason-Dixon line.

That disdain immediately put Jason at odds with the locals when he moved to Preston years ago. His unaccented midwestern English was often mistaken for a northern dialect. The misconception never led to a physical confrontation, but it frequently earned him what he came to label the Universal Stare. It was a way the locals had of acknowledging, assessing, and dismissing a person with a single glance. Mythical southern hospitality often prevented people from engaging him directly with the Stare. So it was usually administered by persons along his periphery, for instance, nearby customers who overheard him ask for unsweet tea. Shortly after relocating he developed the disarming habit of staring back for a brief moment before smiling and drawing the perpetrator into idle banter. Most of the time the stranger’s Pavlovian response was to smile back and exchange some equally shallow conversation. What started out as a game soon began to net him seemingly arcane, but increasingly valuable information. Where to buy the best collards (a roadside stand five miles west of town: one dollar a head and no worms), who to trust for a ten dollar haircut (Melvin Watts: serving black and white patrons for forty years), and who to see about a broken transmission (Junior Colt: his full disability status restricted the amount of money he could earn, but he did expert work).

Grocery store check-out lines, gas pumps at convenience marts, playgrounds in local parks: This thread of casual conversation actually formed the pipeline through which important information passed. But every benign tidbit passed along by this human grapevine had its darker counterpart. If one learned that the librarian’s daughter gave birth to a healthy boy one day, the next day (perhaps while buying socks at Wal-Mart) would bring news that the father of the baby wasn’t the girl’s husband (He was stationed in Iraq). It wasn’t gossip; the continuous flow was usually based on substantiated information from knowledgable sources. In fact, the vetting of facts through the local grapevine was often more rigorous than research done by evening news anchors.
It was through one of these interactions that Jason first began to suspect that Ted Jannock’s motives for running for Senate weren’t altogether pure. He didn’t expect the man to be squeaky clean; what politician was? His personal research showed Jannock to be a very capable consensus builder. He made sure his successes got maximum exposure, while downplaying his failures. Jason was ready to accept the proverbial bad with the good. Jannock looked toward the future; that was a good thing. Like Jason, he could see a time when the good ‘ole boy network would have to give way to the infusion of young new blood. Preston’s future citizens were citizens of the world. Black, white, red, brown: the next generation was more concerned with the color of their tap water than the color of their neighbor’s skin. They viewed the once accepted, casual racism of small towns as a hindrance to growth. Jason saw Jannock as the kind of man that could govern this new constituency. He wasn’t about to withdraw his support of the man based on one or two shady deals. It was only whisperings from the pipeline that encouraged him to dig a little deeper.

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Mind the Return on Investment

Thumbing through Information Week magazine I noticed three or four QR-coded ads in the first 10 pages. You know QR codes, those square, bar code looking thingies you scan with your phone, and they teleport you to a webpage or application. You can actually store more information than web addresses in them, a resume for instance. While cool and useful, they have been slow to take off with the general public. Information Week is a trade publication for the information technology industry. It’s very techy and jargony. Seeing so many QR codes there is an indication of their core audience at the moment.

Facebook has become the QR code of branding in my life. Although an article by literary agent Rachelle Gardner advises against substituting platform building for writing, I have spent a considerable amount of time connecting with other writers and generally learning about my potential audience. My Facebook page is one part of that equation. But the returns so far are meager for the investment, and Facebook is unpleasant enough to make me consider leaving the platform entirely. There’s great potential in it, but energy is always lost in the conversion from potential to kinetic.

It’s a good lesson to learn quickly, once I figured out that writing consumes more time and energy than I ever imagined. The temptation to pursue every form of social media known to man is powerful, but I’m probably going to wean myself from Facebook very soon. This is not an FB bashing post, just a reminder to dump what’s not working in life, regardless of how shiny it is. And keep an eye on those QR codes. One day they’re going to be bigger than fried pickles.

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Embracing the eReader Metaphor: Kindle 4

Kindle 4 SO

I’m the happy new owner of an Amazon Kindle 4 SO (Special Offers). This is my first eReader. The recent design refresh and lower prices finally swayed me. Although there are probably more Kindles in the wild than Toyota Corollas, I thought some brief observations may benefit those contemplating their first eReader purchase.

If you read through as many reviews as I did on Amazon’s website you probably saw some unkind words for the new model. In fact, after only a few 1-star reviews, a couple of themes emerged. In no particular order, here are my experiences after a few days use. I should note my device arrived on-time, securely boxed, and pre-registered to my Amazon account since I bought it from them. On to the review.

Previous page ghosting

When an e-ink display changes “pages”, a faint, ghostly afterimage of the previous page’s words are left behind. Apparently a characteristic of electronic ink technology, the K4 exhibits this trait. The amount of ghosting is a topic of much concern in Amazon’s reviews. Some previous owners deem it to be unreasonably more than the previous generation of Kindles, especially since Amazon has indicated the screens are the same for K3s and K4s. The effect is more noticeable in bright sunlight than normal room interior lighting, and on pages with large amounts of whitespace. Even then, it wasn’t a big deal to me. The ghosting is alleviated by a complete screen refresh (marked by a brief dip to black) every 6th page turn. The currently available firmware update (4.01) lets you choose to refresh the screen at every page turn if this behavior bothers you.

Opinions and rants about this issue are all over the map, and it was my biggest concern before buying. After reading a complete novel before applying the firmware update I can say it’s not a problem for me. It’s there if you look for it, but I don’t think a first time owner will find it objectionable. Lose yourself in the book, not the display.

That issue solved, the display is simply awesome! It has crisp, readable letters with a choice of serif or sans serif font, as well as kerning/leading and size/orientation options. The “page” itself is a light gray, which I find preferable to stark white, especially for reading in bright light.

Size

The keyboard-less model is pretty small, smaller than the K3 (keyboard) model. I have moderately large hands, but was comfortable holding this device for long periods of time.

Page Buttons

Some reviewers dislike the new page forward/backward buttons. They are located on either side of the slim device and require a slight downward push to activate. I never used the previous design with page buttons on the bottom of the bezel, so I’m OK with these. Additionally, they don’t feel as flimsy to me as some reviewers have indicated. All in all, this eReader feels sturdy for the price.

Ads

Ads appear in a small band at the bottom of the home page, and as full page graphics in screensaver mode. The few I’ve seen are tastefully designed and unobtrusive. I’m looking at a local one now offering me 2/3 off a cupcake-decorating class  🙂 Since they do not appear in reading mode, I wouldn’t consider spending $30 more to avoid them.

Amenities/Features

Kindle ships with The New Oxford American Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary of English. The American version was chosen as default in my Kindle. Pressing the 5-way rocker switch in the bottom bezel up or down while in reading mode activates a flashing I-beam cursor that provides a definition for the word immediately to the right. The left and right buttons let you move the cursor from word to word along a line of text. Pressing the center button allows you to see the full definition, begin a highlight, or create a note. Kindle can connect with your Twitter and Facebook accounts to share annotations and excerpts about the book you’re reading… nice.

Wi-fi works well and the Kindle connects to AT&T Hotspots for free with no activation or sign-in. Hello Starbucks! There is one caveat to mention about wi-fi. If you secure your home or work network with long, random alphanumeric sequences, don’t use the pipe | symbol. You won’t find it on Kindle’s virtual keyboard. Wi-fi can easily be turned off to conserve battery life. Speaking of batteries, Amazon expects around a month of use (wi-fi off, 1/2 hour a day) between charges.

A micro-USB cable (provided) allows you to charge the battery and transfer files/firmware updates to the unit. The provided cable is nice and long should you ever need to charge your Kindle while reading. A Kindle email address is also provided, so you can send documents to the device that way as well.

Overall Impression

I loved the Kindle from the moment I saw its display light up. The weight is nice and light. It’s legibility, contrast, and wide range of type adjustments make it a pleasure to read from, particularly outside. Everyone I’ve shown it to is amazed at the e-ink display and using it is mostly intuitive. A key element for me is being able to take a good book (or entire library!) with me anywhere.

So can Kindle ever replace dead tree media? Those of us who remember the endless hours of discovery; the feel of paper; and yes, the smell of wood, ink, and whomever last touched a book will undoubtedly bristle at the notion. But a good book can take you anywhere, even beyond the confines of a digital reading device. Amazon describes the experience perfectly in the welcome letter that I assume ships with every Kindle purchased through them.

We hope you’ll quickly forget you’re reading on an advanced wireless device and instead be transported into that mental realm readers love, where the outside world dissolves, leaving only the author’s stories, words, and ideas.

At $79, Kindle 4 SO is a great value. If you’ve been waiting to purchase an eReader, don’t wait any longer.

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Blog Hop In Progress

Good afternoon writers! Nicole Pyles of The World of My Imagination is hosting a blog hop for writers today. Please visit her blog, follow her, and find a few more writers’ blogs to follow. I’ll do my hopping after work this evening.

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Missed Connections: A Theme, A Start

It’s Friday and today I’m posting my first contribution to the Friday Flash craze. The story, Surround Sound Morning, has a theme. Think about the Missed Connections section in the personals. Only extend the idea beyond its obvious relationship connotations. It’s about all the moments you’ve glimpsed some life-altering truth or essential beauty. Maybe you only realized it once the moment had passed. Or perhaps you understood the importance and acted on impulse. It’s a theme I’ve been writing around and I plan to publish a collection of short stories woven with this thread. This story is much shorter than the others in this collection, so I thought it would be a good introduction. Enjoy!

Surround Sound Morning

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Ebookwars, Hash It Up

As ebooks and self-published authors continue to increase, news about the competition to define the dominant ebook format will proliferate. Based on an article about B&N pulling DC graphic novels after Amazon gained excluside e-publishing rights, I just defined #ebookwars as a proposed hashtag on WhatTheTrend.com. With the battlefield heating up, this tag can make it easier to search for info about this particular aspect of publishing. Let the ebookwars continue!

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Secret Shame of a Pantser

pants hanging on clothesline

I confess. Until now I’ve been a pantser. Long after giving up the romantic notion of the writer who, possessed by inspiration, channels creativity from on high until the keyboard letters melt off in a blinding flash, I continue to start stories with no clear path to the finish line. For me, this is the first level of writing hell: plotting. Some think the first level is coming up with ideas worth fleshing out. That hasn’t been a problem for me. I’ll do well to finish the pile of plotlines I keep in my idea file. But having to diagram a story I haven’t written feels somewhat counterintuitive.

I suppose the last shred of romantic in me thinks a story worth writing will whisper in your ear like a siren, or a mother cooing lullabies to her newborn.

Type away writer.
Tell pretty lies.
You will be famous.
Once the ink dries.

Witness the results. I have one unfinished Nanowrimo novel, one unfinished screenplay, and I’ve recently started another novel. They all feel like they will be entertaining and commercially viable finished products. The intros and exposition for each nearly wrote themselves. Then one by one the characters began to scurry into dark recesses where plotlines faded like lane markings on an old highway.

So today I’ve made a decision. This aspiring writer has given up his pants… so to speak. Less plodding, more plotting. That’s my new mantra. You can come out now characters. I will write in shame no more.

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